How can I get an accurate blood pressure reading?

Dr. Mina W. Ma, MD

According to the American Heart Association, you can get an accurate blood pressure reading by doing the following:

  • Don't smoke, exercise, drink caffeinated beverages or alcohol within 30 minutes of the reading.
  • Rest in a chair for at least 5 minutes with your left arm resting comfortably on a flat surface at heart level. Sit calmly and don't talk. Make sure your feet are flat on the floor with your back straight and supported.
  • Use properly calibrated and validated instruments. Check the cuff size and fit.
  • Every time you measure, take 3 readings, separated by at least 1 minute and record all the results.
  • Try to take readings in the early morning and evening.

You can get an accurate blood pressure reading with these tips:

  • Don't have coffee (or any form of caffeine) and don't smoke 30 minutes before a reading.
  • Don't talk or eat while you check.
  • Sit with your back supported and both feet on the floor.
  • Get the cuff on your bare arm, not over your sleeve.
  • Take more than one reading, especially if you get unusual numbers. All kinds of factors, from exercise to cold weather, can throw your blood pressure off.
Dr. Kathleen Handal, MD
Emergency Medicine Specialist

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!

Your ER Survival Guide: What You Need To Know Before You Go (DocHandal's Guides Book 4)

More About this Book

Your ER Survival Guide: What You Need To Know Before You Go (DocHandal's Guides Book 4)

Few people get through life without at least one trip to the emergency room (ER), either as a patient or support person for a family member or friend.  "Your ER Survival Guide" is the new title for "Doc's ER Survival Guide" it is for non medical persons! It is designed to help calm readers' fears by giving them the lowdown on how an ER operates. The book is written by Kathleen Handal, MD, an emergency physician with over 20 years experience. Handal is a nationally and internationally known emergency medicine physician who authored "The American Red Cross First Aid & Safety Handbook" and co-authored a series of medical textbooks. Included are ten simple steps to follow to get ready for an ER visit, as well as valuable insight into how an ER operates so readers can advocate for the best care possible. Complicated tests and terminology are explained in easy-to-understand terms.Doctors and nurses are making decisions in a fast-paced, stressful environment. Mistakes can and do happen. So the more people know about what to expect the less likely one of those mistakes will happen to them. Reading the book is like having Doc Handal at your side when you need her the most.
Dr. Ozgen Dogan
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

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 percent 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.

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.
Dr. Ronald M. Firth, MD
Family Practitioner

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 to 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.
Dr. Terry W. Smith, MD
Family Practitioner

To get an accurate blood pressure reading, make sure you have been sitting for several minutes. The arm should be outstretched with the appropriate-sized blood pressure cuff. A blood pressure cuff that measures at the wrist isn’t trustworthy; blood pressure reading should be taken above the elbow.

Continue Learning about Heart and Circulatory System

Heart and Circulatory System

Heart and Circulatory System

Your circulatory system is made up of your heart and three main types of blood vessels -- arteries, veins and capillaries. Your heart is at the center of the system, acting as a pump to distribute nutrient- and oxygen-rich blood t...

hrough your body; it then takes away carbon dioxide and other waste your body doesn't need. Signs of poor circulation include cold hands and feet, numbness, dizziness, migraines, varicose veins and pain in your feet or legs. Untreated, poor circulation can lead to stroke, high blood pressure, kidney damage and other diseases. Learn more about your heart and circulatory system with expert advice from Sharecare.

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.