Blood pressure monitor buying guide
Choose the right monitor to measure your blood pressure in the comfort of your home.
One in seven Australian adults have high blood pressure (hypertension) and many more have low blood pressure (hypotension). If you're one of them, then you may find a home blood pressure monitor is an essential tool for for tracking your own blood pressure and managing your condition.
But how do you know which monitor to buy? We cover what you need to know about before you buy, like:
- Automatic or manual
- Upper arm or wrist cuff style
- Other features to look for
- Connected and app-based blood pressure monitors
Want to know how we get our review results? Check out how we test blood pressure monitors.
Shining a light on matters of the heart
A blood pressure monitor is an essential tool in managing several medical conditions. If you suffer from high (hypertension) or low (hypotension) blood pressure then being able to measure your blood pressure daily can help you keep track of any unexpected changes in your health, and tell you if you need to visit your GP.
Regularly monitoring your blood pressure can also be motivational, giving you real time feedback on how those kale smoothies, CrossFit classes and other lifestyle changes are helping bring your blood pressure down! And they provide your GP with additional measurements to monitor your condition or adjust your medication.
Another good reason for do-it-yourself blood pressure checks is something known as 'white-coat hypertension'. Does the thought of visiting your doctor turn your legs to jelly? Then your high blood pressure reading may have more due to nerves than any underlying medical condition. Monitoring your blood pressure when you are relaxed at home could give a more accurate result.
But of course accuracy also comes down to the machine. In our blood pressure monitor test, we found accuracy ranged from just okay to excellent.
- Automatic models inflate the cuff automatically. They work at the push of a button, and tend to perform better than manual monitors, but there are some exceptions.
- Manual models require you to inflate the cuff yourself by pumping a bulb. Unfortunately, this does not count as exercise.
The majority of blood pressure monitors are the upper-arm cuff type, but we're increasingly seeing wrist cuff models available, which look a little bit like an overgrown wrist watch. We didn't find much difference in accuracy between upper arm and wrist cuff models, so the choice comes down to what you prefer.
- Upper arm cuff models may be harder to put the cuff on, as you're doing it one-handed, but it's easier to keep the cuff at heart-height for accurate measurements.
- Arm cuff models typically have a larger, easier to read display (though if you're using an app-based monitor then it's the same no matter what style you choose
- Wrist cuff models may be easier to put on - like a wrist watch - but it's harder to keep them at the required height for an accurate reading.
- Wrist cuff models are smaller, so they're easier to pack when traveling
Other features to look for
Upper arm style monitors generally come with a medium sized cuff as standard. While this will be suitable for the majority of users, if you've got exceptionally large or small arms then look for one which has different sized cuffs available. To find the right sized cuff for you, measure your arm's circumference halfway between your shoulder and elbow while standing with your arm hanging at your side. A circumference of 18-22cm requires a small cuff, 22-32cm is medium, and anything above 32cm is large.
Wrist cuff monitors usually only come in one cuff size.
Make sure the monitor's keys and display are easy for you to read. Upper arm cuff style monitors will generally have larger, easier to read displays than their wrist cuff counterparts. If you're vision isn't the best then you may even want to consider the Pharmacy Care monitor which speaks your results to you, but it does become tiresome after a few uses.
Adjustable inflation level
The cuff has to be inflated to a level above the systolic blood pressure, but the automatic inflation setting might be a lot higher and it could be uncomfortable. Some models have an adjustable inflation level so you can program the pressure.
Some monitors can store several recent blood pressure measurements, and some have separate memory storage for two users – this is a good feature to have if you're sharing the one monitor with your spouse or partner. It's also worth noting that many app-based monitors will give you even better memory storage options, and may even integrate with other health-related apps, so consider this type if you fancy yourself as a systolic statistician.
Mains power adapter
Some battery-run monitors can also operate from the mains power, but check that an adapter is supplied.
Irregular heart rate display
An on screen alert if the heart rate has some disturbance.
A hypertension warning on the screen if necessary – which is a good prompt to visit your GP.
- App-based blood pressure monitors generally give you more and better data logging capabilities than the traditional stand-alone style, including a longer history, data manipulation and graphing, and often the ability to communicate with other health-based apps for more holistic monitoring of your vital signs
- App based monitors generally don't have their own displays, so you need to fish out and connect your phone before you can take a quick measurement. Which can be a hassle if your phone's in the other room
- While there are many benefits to an app based approach, having to pair your phone with your monitor adds a level of complexity to the process. If you and technology don't exactly see eye to eye then you may be better off with a conventional stand-alone monitor.
When you first get your blood pressure monitor, take it to your GP to get it checked against a sphygmomanometer or your GP's monitor so you know if it's accurate. If not then you may need to consult your manual for how to adjust its readings for error. Also, ask your doctor to check your technique to make sure you are measuring your heart rate correctly Check out our 8 step guide to measuring your blood pressure.
Home blood pressure monitors range from $39 to around $250. While there are plenty of more expensive monitors available, there's no real reason to pay more for home use and more expensive monitors may start to be targeted towards professional use. While this sounds good, in practice they may be harder to use, as their cuffs may not be designed to be put on by yourself. The important thing is to find one which is accurate, and which you're comfortable using. See our bood pressure monitor test results for more information.