For a variety of reasons, your doctor or health team may recommend that you regularly check your blood pressure. One in five Canadian adults live with high blood pressure — also referred to as hypertension — so it’s handy to know how to properly check it.
When checking your blood pressure, always measure your resting heart rate, which is the number of times your heart beats per minute while at complete rest. Follow these tips to ensure you get the most accurate reading possible, so you can receive the most appropriate care:
Choose the right device
Buy a blood pressure monitor. These are small, usually digital automated devices attached to a blood pressure cuff. They can be purchased at most pharmacies and used at home. Ask your doctor or pharmacist to check the monitor to make sure it fits your arm well. Here’s a list of home blood pressure monitors recommended by Hypertension Canada. If money is tight, many pharmacies have a public station for checking blood pressure.
Start with a clean slate
Don’t smoke or drink caffeine products 30 minutes beforehand. Smoking or drinking caffeine can elevate your blood pressure for a short period of time, which can affect the accuracy of your reading.
Rest for five minutes
Before you check, rest for five minutes. If you check your blood pressure immediately after exercising or any activity, you won’t be measuring a resting rate and your reading will be inaccurate.
Sit with your feet flat on the floor, back supported, and with your arm supported at heart level (rest it on a table or chair arm). Even small changes in your body position — like crossing your legs or arms, or raising your arms in the air — can affect the accuracy of your blood pressure reading. Keep your body relaxed and neutral.
Make sure your arm is bare when using the blood pressure cuff. Never wrap the cuff around the clothing you’re wearing; trying to measure through even the most sheer fabric can throw off your readings. Rolling up your sleeve can also constrict your arm and elevate your blood pressure. Bare skin is best.
Avoid talking while the monitor is measuring your blood pressure. Like exercising or doing an activity, talking can increase your blood pressure and give a falsely elevated reading. Sometimes even stressful thoughts can elevate your reading!
Check it twice
It’s ideal to measure your blood pressure twice a day for two weeks leading up to a doctor’s appointment, or following a change in medication. At each sitting, measure your blood pressure three times, but discard the first reading as it tends to be inaccurate. Write down the average of the second and third reading. Bringing your latest readings to an appointment helps give your doctor a good idea of what your blood pressure is outside of the office. Often due to nervousness, some people experience an elevated blood pressure at the doctor’s office but not at home. For this reason, your home readings will be the most accurate.
Write it down
Keep a log of your readings. This is a great way for both you and your physician to see trends in your blood pressure. Having multiple readings to analyze is helpful when contemplating changes in treatment, whether it be lifestyle changes or medication adjustments. Many home blood pressure monitoring devices store readings for you, and there are also apps for your smart phone that can keep track and can even print off readings.
Still have questions?
Calgary Foothills Primary Care Network’s health team — which includes clinical pharmacists, health management nurses and registered dietitians — work in partnership with your family doctor and can help you learn more about high blood pressure and other health concerns.