There are many days when people don’t have enough time to measure their blood pressure once. You may have heard taking one blood pressure reading is not enough and it should be three times. With such limited time, why take 3 BP readings?
A 3rd blood pressure reading provides a more accurate result and eliminates error. The new blood pressure guidelines recommend taking an average of two or more blood pressure readings obtained on two or more occasions. The 3 readings should be taken one minute apart.
This blog post will dive more in detail how to take the 3 readings. I’ll include how to average the 3 readings and what each reading means. In addition, should the 3 readings be taken on one arm or both?
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Why Take 3 BP Readings
It may seem like a hassle to take 3 readings every time you measure your blood pressure. It most situations, it probably is, but it’s necessary. Many people ask, why should you take blood pressure 3 times in a row?
The following are four reasons why you should take blood pressure 3 times in a row:
- The current blood pressure guidelines recommend taking two or more BP readings.
- It eliminates random errors in the readings.
- A third reading increases the accuracy of the measurements.
- If there is a large difference between the first and second reading, a third one should be taken.
1. The American College of Cardiology and The American Heart Association recommends taking two or more blood pressure readings. This is specifically stated in the new blood pressure guidelines released in 2017 1.
They recommend this for medical professions and for those monitoring their pressure at home. If you’re going to start home monitoring or want to purchase a better quality machine for accurate results. Check out my blog post review of the monitor I use and recommend, Welch Allyn 1700 Review.
2. A third reading can eliminate random errors. Errors may consist of the wrong body position, talking during measurement, the wrong arm position or a glitch with the monitor.
3. The accuracy of the measurements is increased when taking two or three readings. As with any evaluation, the more data obtained, the more likely the results will be correct.
4. If the first two measurements are far apart from each other, especially around or more than 10 mmHg, a third reading is recommended. Averaging the three results provides more accuracy and trust to the readings 2.
The first measurement is often higher because the person didn’t have 3-5 minutes of quiet time. A third reading will provide a bigger and more accurate picture of your measurements 3.
How To Average 3 Blood Pressure Readings
The guidelines recommend averaging two to three readings, and you’ve decided to follow the recommendation. You may ask yourself, how to average 3 blood pressure readings?
Average the 3 blood pressure readings by recording each of the three. Add all three of the readings and divide the total by three. The answer is the average of the three readings and should be recorded along with the 3 measurements.
Some people wonder if they should throw out the first reading because it was higher than the other two. It shouldn’t be thrown out and all three readings should be saved and recorded. Others save the best of the 3 blood pressure readings only, this should not be done either 4.
It’s a good idea to label which reading is the first, second and third. If you have a monitor that saves the measurements in the machine or on a phone app, it automatically saves the times. This will tell you which measurement is which.
What The 3 Blood Pressure Readings Mean
The 3 blood pressure readings are measurements of your systolic and diastolic blood pressure at the moment of each measurement. The systolic blood pressure is the top number and diastolic blood pressure is the bottom number.
Systolic blood pressure is the amount of force against the blood vessel walls while the heart beats. Diastolic blood pressure is the amount of force against the blood vessel walls while the heart is resting between beats.
Recording which reading was the first, second or third is important. It can inform you or the doctor of a potential problem. One issue can be the first blood pressure reading is always higher. This may be an indication you’re not preparing for the measurement properly.
A common error is not resting quietly for 3-5 minutes which can make the first measurement higher than the other two 5. By the time the second and third one is taken, the body has had more time to relax. This is why blood pressure is often lower the second time you take it.
There are more reasons why the first one may be higher. Find out the others in my blog post, First Blood Pressure Reading Always Higher.
Should All 3 BP Readings Be Taken In The Same Arm?
All 3 BP readings should be taken in the same arm which was previously determined. The arm used is the one which consistently measures higher blood pressure than the other arm.
The blood pressure guidelines states at the first doctor visit, the medical professional should take blood pressure in both arms. The arm that gives the higher measurement should be used for all subsequent readings.
If you’re unsure which arm to use, ask your physician to perform this procedure if they haven’t done so prior. In addition, a difference in pressure between the two arms can signal a medical issue other than high blood pressure. Read more about those serious problems in my blog post, Which Arm To Take Blood Pressure.
When should the three blood pressure readings be taken? Typically, the three readings should be taken in the morning before taking any medication and in the evening before dinner. Always consult with a physician and be guided by their recommendation which may differ for each person.
Read Next – More Related BP Articles!
Why Blood Pressure Drops Suddenly When Standing Up
Why Taking Blood Pressure As Soon As You Sit Down Is Higher
How Often You Should Replace Batteries In A BP Monitor
Does Omron Make An Extra Large Blood Pressure CuffArticle Resources: Blood Pressure Explained follows strict guidelines to ensure our content is the highest journalistic standard. It's our mission to provide the reader with accurate, honest and unbiased guidance. Our content relies on medical associations, research institutions, government agencies and study resources. Learn more by reading our editorial policy.
- Hypertension: 2017 ACC/AHA Guidelines for the Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Management of High Blood Pressure in Adults: A Report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Clinical Practice Guidelines[↩]
- Harvard Health: Avoid these common blood pressure measuring mistakes[↩]
- Hypertension: Measurement of Blood Pressure in Humans: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association[↩]
- American Heart Association: How to use a home blood pressure monitor[↩]
- American Heart Association: Don’t just get your BP taken; make sure it’s taken the right way[↩]