How to check your blood pressure

By Peggy Thomas

American Heart Association

Most of us know we should check our blood pressure, but do you know the best way to do that? Blood pressure measures how hard blood is pushing against the walls of the arteries while beating and while at rest. The higher your B/P, the higher the strain on your arteries and heart and your risk of heart problems in the future.  

Taking your B/P can be free and easy, but several factors can affect readings. There are easy steps to follow to help get correct numbers. It starts before the measurement. Avoid smoking, exercising and drinking caffeinated or alcoholic drinks 30 minutes beforehand. All of these activities can cause a shift in B/P that may not depict a true number. B/P can also vary throughout the day, so try to stick to the same time of day when tracking your numbers.  

You should rest for five minutes before the reading is taken. This is easy to say, but not easy to do for those of us juggling several things at once. Resting allows the opportunity to position yourself sitting with your arm resting on a flat surface, feet on the floor and back straight and supported. The bottom of the B/P cuff should be positioned above the bend of the elbow. The arm should be positioned at heart level. Take some deep breaths and possibly meditate while waiting to take the reading.   

Your B/P should be taken twice, one minute apart. Unless you are under guidance from a physician, measuring your B/P a few times a week is enough to start tracking results. Keep a log of results. Some machines have print outs that provide the readings, day and time. There are smartphone apps for tracking, or you can use the traditional pen and paper method. One high reading does not always signal a problem, so tracking for two to three days a week for a month can provide insights into results that can be shared with a physician. Normal blood pressure is under 120/80. Talk to your doctor about consistent results above that. Get help immediately if a B/P of 140/90 comes with chest pain, dizziness or shortness of breath.

High blood pressure is a leading cause of stroke, heart attack and heart failure. Following a good technique when measuring it and tracking the results for follow up if indicated can be just as important as diet and exercise. Take the time to know your B/P numbers; it’s easy, inexpensive and could be life altering. 

Peggy Thomas, MSN, RN, is an American Heart Association advisory board member and Administrator for Surgical and Invasive Services at St. Joseph’s Health.

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