High blood pressure—known as the silent killer—has no obvious symptoms, yet one-third of Americans have the condition, many without knowing it. Hypertension can increase your risk of heart attack, stroke, kidney disease, and a number of other serious health problems.
But when it comes to keeping track of this important number, an occasional doctor’s office check of your blood pressure may not be giving you the full picture, experts say. “Blood pressure varies a lot during the day,” says Beverly Green, M.D., M.P.H., senior investigator and family physician at the Kaiser Permanent Washington Health Research Institute and Kaiser Permanent Washington in Seattle. “A single good blood pressure measurement … may not be enough information.”
Why Monitor at Home?
Research shows that home blood pressure monitoring can help people with hypertension keep it under control. A 2010 analysis from the independent Cochrane Collaboration, for example, found that self-monitoring led to lower numbers in both systolic (top) and diastolic (bottom) blood pressure. And recent preliminary research suggests that using a home blood pressure monitor may help people with uncontrolled hypertension get their numbers under control.
For some, monitoring at home can be useful for diagnosing hypertension in the first place. Some people experience “white coat hypertension,” blood pressure that’s high during a medical checkup but normal at home. The reasons aren’t completely clear, but one popular theory is that some people have anxiety about being in a doctor’s office or other healthcare setting, leading blood pressure to temporarily spike, according to Aldo Peixoto, M.D., professor of medicine at the Yale School of Medicine and co-director of the Hypertension Program at the Yale New Haven Hospital Heart and Vascular Center.
The opposite effect, known as “masked hypertension,” can also occur—some people have normal blood pressure readings at the doctor’s office but high blood pressure most of the rest of the time. (It’s even less clear why this happens, Peixoto says.)
Monitoring at home can also help those who are just starting on medications to lower blood pressure—to determine how well the therapy is working. It can also be useful for pregnant women experiencing pregnancy-induced hypertension, or pre-eclampsia, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).
Note: People with atrial fibrillation or other arrhythmias may not be good candidates for home monitoring. Before you purchase a device, talk with your doctor about whether you would benefit from using one.
How to Buy the Best Monitor for You
Pick a top-scoring model that has the features you need and that will make testing easier for you. For example, some models allow you to store readings for more than one user. All the models we recommend are rated Excellent for accuracy, but there are other factors to consider, too. Follow these tips to help you select the best monitor for you:
Check the Fit
Make sure the blood pressure monitor you choose has a cuff that fits the circumference of your upper arm or wrist. (Use a tape measure to be certain.) Using a cuff that’s the wrong size can result in inaccurate readings. Most of the arm models we tested have two cuffs or a cuff that can be adjusted to fit most people. Wrist models also fit most people.
The recommended models in the ratings (available to members) were priced from $40 to $100. But shop around. And find out whether your insurance covers blood pressure monitors.
Choose One That’s Easy to Use
The display on the monitor should be easy to read. The buttons should be large and intuitive. The directions for using the cuff and operating the monitor should be clear.
Select the Features You Need
There are many features to look for when selecting a blood pressure monitor. Here are some to consider: irregular-heartbeat detector, risk-category indicator, multiple user memories, multiple cuffs, memory download capability, large-digit display, and data averaging function. For more details, check out our ratings and click the Features and Specs tab.