Question

Heart and Circulatory System

How can I get an accurate blood pressure reading?

A Answers (5)

  • AMichael Roizen, MD, Internal Medicine, answered
    There are six common goof-ups when healthcare providers check blood pressure -- and they throw off the readings 93% of the time!

    If you’re not tested using "gold standard" blood pressure procedures, your systolic blood pressure is probably off by at least five points and your diastolic blood pressure by two points. That’s enough to change the prescribed medical treatments of 45% of patients, and make it seem like you have high blood pressure (hypertension).

    Here are seven tips to ensure you get an accurate blood pressure reading.
    • Don’t get "cuffed" too fast. Wait five minutes after you come into the exam room to erase the effects of previous activity. Walking fast boosts your reading by 5 to 14 points and driving in traffic raises it 9 to 14 points. Don’t be shy about resting before your blood pressure test.
    • Keep quiet. Talking or listening to the practitioner during your check can raise both blood pressure numbers by 10 points. We know there is little time to spend talking with the doc, but do it after the test!
    • Be sure your body is well-supported. An "off" position -- sitting to one side, for example -- can increase your blood pressure. Sit with your back supported, feet flat on the floor and legs uncrossed. The cuff should be at heart level. This can prevent a 2- to 11-point increase in blood pressure readings.
    • Get the right size blood pressure cuff. If you’re extra-large or petite, match the cuff to your arm size. One that’s too tiny can raise your numbers by 10 points. One that’s too big makes your reading lower than reality.
    • Ask for a blood pressure check on each arm. Checking right and left arms can catch problems you might miss if you only measure your "low pressure" side, and differences between arms of 15 points or more can also be an early-warning sign of a clogged aorta or blockage in another major blood vessel.
    • Be smart about white-coat hypertension. The blood pressure of one in four adults spikes the minute a doctor, nurse or physician’s assistant appears. This spike may signal how you normally live. At your appointment, ask to sit quietly, solo, in an exam room for 30 minutes while wearing a monitor that automatically checks your pressure every five minutes.
    • Skip the coffee break, but take a bathroom break. Sipping tea, coffee, cola or other caffeinated drinks within 30 minutes raises blood pressure. A full bladder’s not just uncomfortable, it can boost your blood pressure by 20 points.
    Helpful? 45 people found this helpful.
  • AKathleen Handal, MD, Emergency Medicine, answered
    When you monitor your own blood pressure at home, which you must if you are on blood pressure medication, here are some tips to help ensure an accurate reading:
    • Avoid caffeine and smoking for 30 minutes prior to taking your blood pressure.
    • Sit quietly (don’t talk) with both feet flat on the floor for at least three minutes before you inflate the cuff. It is important to feel relaxed when your blood pressure is taken because stress raises your blood pressure.
    • Avoid certain foods and activities prior to taking your blood pressure. Please, don’t take your blood pressure after you’ve gulped down a coffee, eaten a meal or had a bowel movement. A blood pressure reading taken shortly after any one of these actions will most likely be higher.
    • Use your right arm for blood pressure readings, unless there is a medical reason not to, such as an injury, weakness, recent procedure or breast surgery with lymph node removal.
    • Wait at least two minutes between readings or the second reading may be inaccurate.
    Remember: If you are taking blood pressure medication that is not working as you know it should, get medical help. A blood pressure reading of 180/110 is a medical emergency!
    Helpful? 17 people found this helpful.
  • AOzgen Dogan, Cardiology, answered
    Before your blood pressure is measured, sit for five minutes. Then, your arm should be stretched out at heart level. Your feet should be on the floor and you should be leaning back. The blood pressure monitor cuff should be doubled around your upper arm, covering 80% of it. If the cuff is smaller, your blood pressure may measure higher than it really is. If you buy an electronic device for home, for best results, choose the one that fits over the elbow. Refrain from coffee, tea or cigarettes for 30 minutes before the test.
    Helpful? 15 people found this helpful.
  • ARonald Mark Firth, MD, Family Medicine, answered on behalf of Intermountain Healthcare
    It’s vital that blood pressure measurement is accurate. You don’t want your blood pressure treatment to be based on incorrect measurements. Here are some tips to ensure you get the most accurate readings possible:
    • Use a blood pressure machine that’s been compared to the one used in your healthcare provider’s office. To continue to ensure accurate home blood pressure measurements, have your healthcare provider check your monitor about every six months. If you drop the monitor, or readings change abruptly, have it checked right away.
    • Try to get readings at a consistent time each day--usually morning or evening. Your blood pressure can fluctuate by 20-30 mmHg at various times of the day and can change based on what you’re doing.
    • Don’t take your blood pressure within a half hour of eating a heavy meal, drinking caffeine, exercising, or using tobacco products. These things can temporarily raise your blood pressure.
    • Remove jewelry or clothing that interferes with cuff placement.
    • Make sure the blood pressure cuff is the correct size for your arm, and that it’s positioned correctly with no wrinkles in the cuff.
    • Sit quietly for 5 minutes or more, with both feet flat on the floor, before taking your blood pressure. If possible, rest your arm at heart level on a table or arm of a chair.
    • Take 3 readings about 5 minutes apart.
    Helpful? 14 people found this helpful.
  • The following are tips on how to get an accurate reading of your blood pressure:
    • Sit quietly for 5 minutes before taking your blood pressure, with both feet flat on the floor. Rest your arm on a table or arm of a chair.
    • Wait at least a half hour after eating, drinking caffeine, or exercising.
    • Place the cuff in the correct position on your arm. Follow the instructions provided with the monitor.
    Helpful? 9 people found this helpful.
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