Monitoring your blood pressure at home is a great way to improve your health. The new blood pressure guidelines released a few years ago, recommend home monitoring and encourage doctors to persuade their patients to do it. The endless benefits can even save you money in the long-term.
I get asked many questions about home monitoring and which monitors are the best to use. Unfortunately, many people who are monitoring their blood pressure at home are making common mistakes. Because of these mistakes, they are getting inaccurate readings which can throw off their results.
These errors are increased with a wrist cuff which has prompted me to write this post and get everybody on the right track. The good news is, the biggest mistake people make is probably the easiest to fix (r).
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How To Take Your Blood Pressure With a Wrist Cuff:
#1: Keep Your Wrist Cuff At Heart Level
Not keeping your wrist cuff at heart level is probably the biggest mistake people make. If the cuff is below heart level, it’s easy to get a false reading too high. If your wrist cuff is above heart level, your readings can be false to the low side.
The best way to make sure your cuff is at heart level is the positioning of your arm. If you don’t have a table to rest your elbow on, start with your upper arm hanging straight down close to your side.
Then bend your elbow, raising your forearm up and across your chest until your wrist cuff is level with your heart. Keep your upper arm down and close to your side as shown in the image below.
Some wrist monitors have a heart level sensor. The wrist monitor I highly recommend has a built in heart level guidance feature. You can check it out on Amazon by clicking here. I also wrote a whole blog post on it and why I think it’s the best wrist monitor which you can read right here.
#2: Which Arm To Take Blood Pressure?
Left or right? There is no correct general answer to this question. Knowing which arm to use is different for everyone. At an initial doctor visit, they should take your blood pressure in each arm and record both.
Whichever arm has the higher blood pressure should be the arm used for each subsequent reading (r).
In addition, taking blood pressure in each arm can diagnose a more serious medical condition like peripheral artery disease (PAD) and aortic dissection. A difference of 10 mm Hg or less between arms is typical and usually not a concern.
If there is a larger difference between arms, there may be a medical condition like PAD.
A 69 year old women was misdiagnosed because the medical staff failed to check BP in both arms. This resulted in a whole series of unfortunate events and medication. You can read more about her story and what she was put through in my Which Arm To Take Blood Pressure article located in this website.
How to take blood pressure with a wrist cuff is one of 14 sections in my article about blood pressure cuffs. Learn more about BP cuffs, including how to apply them, errors made and sizes, here in the article, Blood Pressure Cuffs.
#3: Cuff Position
Wrapping the wrist cuff too close to your hand or too far up the forearm can result in inaccurate readings. The edge of the cuff should be about half an inch from your wrist crease as shown in the image below.
#4: Proper Body Positioning
Your body should be relaxed and supported. The best way is to sit in an upright position with your back supported like in a dining room chair. Your feet should be flat on the floor and your legs should be uncrossed.
Because of the arm position mentioned in step #1, it might be easier to use a chair without side arms. If not, you can rest your elbow on the arm of the chair (r). If you have a table, rest your elbow on the table infront of you and raise the wrist to heart level.
#5: Time of Day
You should take your blood pressure the same time everyday and under similar circumstances and surroundings. By doing this, your readings have the best chance for consistency. I find the best time is the first thing in the morning after using the bathroom and before drinking or eating food.
#6: Don’t Do This Within 30 Minutes Of Taking Your Blood Pressure
- Don’t drink caffeinated beverages.
- Don’t smoke.
- Don’t exercise.
#7: Do This Within 5 Minutes Of Taking Your Blood Pressure
Have 5 minutes of quiet, relaxed time. Taking your blood pressure right after a stressful drive or conversation can give you an elevated reading. This would not be consistent with your reading throughout the rest of the day.
In addition, make sure you empty your bladder so your body and mind is not stressed.
#8: Dress Properly and Expose Your Wrist
The wrist cuff should wrap around your skin and not over any clothes. This will allow the monitor to receive the best signal from your blood vessels as possible. Also, consider wearing a short sleeve shirt or a sleeve that can easily be moved up your forearm and out of the way.
A looser more comfortable sleeve would be best, so it doesn’t have to be tight or uncomfortable after it’s moved up your arm.
#9: Take More Than One Reading
Sometimes a single blood pressure reading may not reflect your true pressure. It’s always possible, for a number of reasons, your BP may temporary rise or fall.
For this reason, it’s best to take 3 readings, one minute apart. Some monitors have an advanced averaging feature. It will display the average of the last 3 readings taken within the past 10 minutes.
#10: Keep A Log of Your Blood Pressure Readings
Keeping a record of your readings is important and allows you to bring them to your doctor on your next visit. Most wrist cuff monitors have a built-in memory or a phone app where they can be stored.
If your monitor doesn’t have a memory feature, then keep a written record. Whichever way you track your readings, I suggest you bring the monitor with you on your next doctor visit so you can follow step #11.
#11: Check Your Monitor For Accuracy
An accurate wrist cuff monitor is crucial to reaching your blood pressure goals. If you have a new monitor, bring it with you to your next doctor appointment. Ask the nurse to check your pressure with their device and yours, to compare both readings.
If you already have a monitor, bring it with you once a year to make sure it remains accurate
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