One in seven Australian adults have high blood pressure, or hypertension as it's known medically, and many others suffer from low blood pressure, or hypotension. If you're one of them, you don't need to wait to see your doctor to find out how your lifestyle is affecting your blood pressure. Using a blood pressure monitor at home can help you keep a closer eye on things.
Shining a light on matters of the heart
The right blood pressure monitor can give you a better understanding of your condition. It can be motivational, as it gives you feedback while you're making changes to your lifestyle – all those kale smoothies and CrossFit classes will be worth it as you watch your blood pressure come 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 you to jelly? You might get an increased reading that is more due to nerves than high blood pressure. 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 test of blood pressure monitors, accuracy ranged from just okay to excellent.
Automatic or manual?
Blood pressure monitors can be automatic or manual:
- Automatic models inflate the cuff automatically. They tend to work better than manual monitors, but there are some exceptions. In our test of blood pressure monitors, we didn't find much difference in accuracy between upper arm and wrist models.
- Manual models require you to inflate the cuff yourself by pumping a bulb. Unfortunately, this does not count as exercise.
Other features to look for
Arm monitors come in three different sizes. You will need to 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 requires a medium cuff, and above 32cm a large cuff. Wrist monitors usually only come in one cuff size.
Make sure the monitor's keys and display are easy for you to read.
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, sometimes for two people.
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.
Special note on calibration and technique
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 or if you have to adjust its readings for error. Also, get your doctor to check your technique while you are there to make sure you are measuring your heart rate correctly. Check out our 8 step guide to measuring your blood pressure.