Question: What can you tell me about home blood pressure monitors? My doctor recently told me I have hypertension and need a monitor for the house so I can keep an eye on it. But with all the choices, I’m a little overwhelmed. – Hypertensive Helen
Answer: DEAR HELEN: Everyone with high blood pressure (140/90 or higher) or prehypertension (between 120/80 and 139/89) should have a home blood pressure monitor.
Home monitoring can help you keep tabs on your blood pressure in a comfortable setting. Plus, if you’re taking medication, it will make certain it’s working and alert you to a health problem if it arises. But with all the styles and options available, selecting one can be confusing. Here are some tips to help you choose.
Types of monitors
Although there are various types of blood pressure monitors on the market (manual monitors, automatic and semiautomatic upper arm monitors, wrist monitors and finger monitors), the most popular option that’s also recommended by the American Heart Association is an automatic monitor for the upper arm. The reason? They’re reliable and simple to use.
With an automatic arm monitor, you simply wrap the cuff around your bicep, and with the push of one button the cuff inflates and deflates automatically, giving you your blood pressure reading on the display window in a matter of seconds. Semiautomatic models work the same way, except you inflate the cuff manually by squeezing a rubber bulb.
Manual blood pressure monitors, on the other hand, aren’t nearly as popular because they require you to check your own blood pressure with a stethoscope, which is difficult for most folks. And wrist and finger monitors are not recommended because they’re not considered to be as accurate.
What to know
To help you choose a good monitor that meets your needs, here are several things you need to check into:
Cuff size: If you’re opting for an arm monitor, make sure it has a cuff that fits your bicep. Blood pressure readings will be wrong if your cuff is the wrong size.
Accuracy: Check the packaging to make sure the monitor has been independently tested and validated for accuracy and reliability by the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation or the British Hypertension Society. Many monitors on the market are not, and their readings may not be reliable. A list of validated monitors is available at the British Hypertension Society’s website at http://www.bhsoc.org.
Display: Be sure you can read the numbers on the display comfortably. Most automatic models offer extra-large digital displays, and some even have voice-announced readings.
Extra features: Depending on your wants and needs, many automatic arm monitors come with a variety of additional features such as a built-in pulse (heart rate) measurement, irregular heartbeat detection, memory to store previous readings and computer connections so you can download the data to your computer.
Portability: If you plan to take your monitor with you while traveling, look for one with a carrying case.
Where to shop
There are many companies that make and sell automatic blood pressure monitors, but the leading supplier in the industry and the one most often recommended by Consumer Reports is Omron (omronhealthcare.com, 877-216-1333). Other top makers include LifeSource, ReliOn, Microlife, HoMedics, Proton and Lumiscope. You can find these and other monitors at most pharmacies, medical supply stores or online at prices ranging from $30 to more than $100, and you don’t need a prescription to buy one.
Savvy tips: After you buy a monitor, it’s a good idea to take it to your doctor’s office, so they can check its accuracy as well as teach you the proper techniques of how and when to use it.
And for more information on high blood pressure, including tips on how to check it, visit “Your Guide To Lowering High Blood Pressure” at http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/hbp.
Jim Miller is a contributor to NBC’s “Today” show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.