The Home Blood Pressure Monitor
This section outlines the advantages of owning a home blood pressure monitor, how they work, how to use and take care of them, and gives a few hints and tips on what to look for when buying one.
Why you should get a Blood Pressure Monitor
If you have reached this page then hopefully I have already convinced you that you are the most important member of the team looking after you blood pressure. So, you would naturally already agree that you need the tools for the job, the main one being a blood pressure monitor. However, do take a minute to scan through the list below - there may be some benefits and uses that have not occurred to you.
Naturally I talk a lot about control on this site! I want you to be in control of your blood pressure. Being able to monitor your pressure yourself is the first step to taking control.
You cant take control if you haven’t taken responsibility. If you do not own a monitor, it is a sure sign that you have left the responsibility for managing your condition entirely to the professionals. You need to contribute more. With a monitor you will feel empowered as part of the team and will feel more responsibility to take an active role in managing your condition.
After diagnosis, many hypertensive people worry during the time between visits to the doctor. Having your own machine will eliminate this - it is reassuring to be able to check your pressure more regularly. Some people, for example, may be convinced that certain symptoms are the result of their pressure shooting up or feel that something is affecting their pressure adversely - this can easily be checked which reduces anxiety.
When you go to the clinic the doctor must base his/her decisions about your treatment on the tried and tested (and well maintained and calibrated) office machines. However, your readings can provide valuable additional information that can help with management decisions or give clues as to what the doctor might want to look into with you.
The most obvious example is white-coat hypertension. This is when you tend to have a significantly higher reading at the doctors office. Your readings can also assist in monitoring response to a drug or treatment change by the doctor.
What is working for you?: Home blood pressure monitoring shows up trends and relationships better too. They can help identify certain patterns or associations that may not be obvious with a reading taken every few months. This can be valuable in showing up what affects your pressure and thus help to keep it down.
Unless your monitor is the all-singing all-dancing type that keeps a record for you, you should also get into the habit of keeping records of your numbers and other important information. Click here for more detail on blood pressure charts.
If you intend to try out the various options discussed on this site for reducing your pressure - you can't do without a monitor because identifying a range of things that will work for you is central to the strategy that I am recommending for you.
Fewer clinic visits
If your doctor is happy with your ability to monitor blood pressure at home you may need to make fewer trips to the clinics to have it measured. Another reason that I am confident will apply to you is that your BP control will be better and your doctor will be happy for you to cut down on clinic visits.
To help others
Why not extend your new found knowledge about High blood Pressure to benefit others? If any of your relatives or friends has not had a check up recently - encourage them to check their BP and do it for them.
Types of blood pressure monitor
A blood pressure monitor has four main working elements:
- A pump - to create pressure
- A fabric cuff (with an inflatable rubber bladder inside it) - to apply the pressure to the arm
- A gauge - to measure the pressure - (plus a display to show it)
- A sensor to detect when the pressure has shut off the artery
Monitors are often confusingly categorized - let's try to keep it simple.
There are AUTOMATIC blood pressure monitors and MANUAL ones. As with most things, the automatic ones are the more modern and most convenient to use. (The following comments refer to monitors used on the upper arm. There is a note on wrist and finger monitors at the end).
All automatic monitors are digital (as you would expect) and they vary in sophistication from those that simply display your reading to those that will store it or even email it to your doctor for you.
The automatic monitors usually house the pump, pressure gauge, and sensor, inside a small unit that also has the display on it. They are therefore physically very simple - just the cuff and a box - there is nothing to misplace. The machine automates the inflation-deflation process, the sensor detects the flow of blood and the gauge detects the associated pressures which give you the systolic and diastolic results that are displayed.(NB: If you have an irregular heartbeat this can affect these monitors because of the way the sensors work. See your doctor about this if you pick it up.)
The basic mode of action is:
1. The cuff is inflated and deflated automatically after a simple press of a button
2. Your reading is then shown on a digital display
This is why, for home monitoring, I always recommend these devices. They have been in production for a long time now so machines have become more dependable and accurate. Since measurement accuracy is important and is affected by things such as exertion and anxiety, you do not want to be pumping up cuffs manually or coping with other trickier aspects of manual BP measurement, such as manipulating a stethoscope, when you are supposed to be relaxing. They are also very affordable.
There are some variations in this group of machines - semi-automatic monitors, like this one for example . . .
. . . have no inbuilt pump and are thus a bit cheaper. You do the pumping and it deflates automatically and measures your pressure. These require less battery power too.
This group includes the old fashioned but very dependable mercury sphygmomanometers (sphygs) and the aneroid variety which shows the pressure on a dial.
They are manual because the pump to inflate the cuff is a rubber bulb which you operate and the sensor to detect the blood flow in the artery is your ears! (Using a stethoscope of course).
Manual monitors are reliable, if a little complex and tricky to use. Many hospitals and clinics still use them. If you are used to using one then you have probably one that suits you, and are happy with it, so there is no reason to change.
Nevertheless you could consider moving with the times! If you do, initially use the two side by side to get an idea of how their readings correlate. If you notice any discrepancy, then you need to involve your doctor so that you can find out why, and ensure you are using an accurately calibrated machine.
Wrist and finger monitors
The further down the arm you get - as a rule of thumb (!) - the less dependable your readings will be. The machines may be sophisticated but there are too many factors that affect the pressures and the readings. Wrist monitors can be a useful backup device and I do not recommend using the finger monitors.
If you buy a wrist monitor, I would do so only if you already possess an arm monitor. Compare the results you get with the two. The wrist monitor would be handy (there I go again!) to take with you when traveling for example.
They are also useful for people with very large arms who find it difficult or painful to have their readings taken using an upper arm cuff.
Not yet commercially available . . .
For the sake of completeness, I list an experimental blood pressure monitor that has not hit the market yet, (and in any case, is probably not suitable for most people who can use normally available cuff sizes!). The 'Gorilla Tough Cuff' Click here to read more about it.
Using and Caring for a blood pressure monitor
Blood pressure monitors usually come with comprehensive manufacturers instructions which you should read carefully. You can read about proper technique for measuring your blood pressure by clicking here.
Keep it in a safe and temperature regulated place: Generally speaking, although automatic monitors are robust and portable, I tend to advise people not to cart them around too much because of the unpredictability of the conditions they might encounter - extremes of heat and cold (in a car for example) and shocks from being knocked or dropped.
Avoid compressing or kinking the tubes, and keep them out of direct sunlight.
Check against your clinic monitor: When you get your own monitor, the first thing you should do, if possible, is to check it against the one that your doctor uses. This is important because these will be the main devices guiding treatment decisions for you. They should correlate well and if they don't you should find out why. Repeat the checks yearly.
Get your monitor calibrated at intervals: Before you buy, check what arrangements are made for recalibration. Monitors naturally will drift a bit from their initial state and will need to be checked and occasionally reset. Manufacturers instructions will give you the recommended intervals for this, which may be around 2-yearly. Most manufacturers offer this service though may charge for it.
Interested in buying a blood pressure monitor?
Find out more about reliable brands here.
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