Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit, the AAFP patient education website.

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Am Fam Physician. 2004;70(8):1547-1548

Why should I measure my blood pressure at home?

Measuring your blood pressure at home and writing down the readings will show you and your doctor how much your blood pressure changes during the day. Your doctor can use the measurements to see how well your medicine is keeping your blood pressure low.

What do I need to measure my blood pressure?

There are two kinds of monitors you can use to measure your blood pressure at home. Aneroid monitors (say: ann-uh-roid) have a dial with a pointer that tells you your measurement. You inflate the cuff on your upper arm by squeezing a rubber bulb. Digital monitors can have either manual or automatic cuffs. The blood pressure reading flashes on a small screen. Choose the kind of monitor that best suits your needs.

What are the good points and bad points of the aneroid monitor?

Aneroid monitors can be carried easily from one place to another. Their cuffs have a built-in stethoscope, so you do not need to buy another piece of equipment. They may have a special feature that makes it easier to put the cuff on with one hand. Aneroid monitors cost less than a digital monitor (they are about $20 to $30).

Aneroid monitors have some bad points. Some people find them hard to use. They can be damaged easily and become less accurate. They can be hard to use if they do not have a special metal ring that makes them easier to put on. The rubber bulb that inflates the cuff may be hard to squeeze. Aneroid monitors might not be the best choice for people who have problems hearing, because you need to be able to hear your heartbeat through the stethoscope.

What are the good points and bad points of the digital monitor?

The automatic digital monitor is the most popular blood-pressure measuring tool. Measurements are easy to read because the numbers are shown on a screen. Some electronic monitors have a paper printout that gives you a record of the measurement.

The digital monitor is easier to use than the aneroid monitor. It has a feature that tells you if you have used it wrong. The cuffs inflate either manually or automatically, depending on which kind you choose. The cuff deflates (lets out air) by itself. Digital monitors are good for people who have trouble hearing, because you do not need to listen for your heartbeat.

One bad point of the digital monitor is that the accuracy is not as good if you move during the test or if you have an irregular heart rate. Digital monitors use batteries. Some models are made to be used only on the left arm. This may make them hard for some people to use. Digital monitors can be expensive. Semiautomatic monitors can cost as little as $40. Fully automatic monitors start at $65, and some models cost hundreds of dollars.

Features to look for in a blood pressure monitor

  • The right cuff size is very important. Ask your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist to tell you the cuff size you need, based on the size of your arm. Blood pressure readings can be wrong if your cuff is the wrong size.

  • The numbers on the monitor must be easy for you to read.

  • If you are using a stethoscope, you must be able to hear your heartbeat through it.

  • Cost may be an important factor. Home blood pressure monitors vary in price, and you may have to shop around. The most expensive monitors might not be the best or the most accurate.

Can I use a finger or wrist blood pressure monitor?

Tests have shown that finger and wrist monitors do not measure blood pressure very well. They are sensitive to body position and body temperature, and they are more expensive than other monitors (they cost more than $100).

How do I know if my monitor is accurate or if I am using it correctly?

Once you buy your monitor, take it to your doctor’s office and have it checked. Do this once a year. Be sure to store it carefully, and make sure the tubing is not twisted. Keep your monitor away from heat, and check the tubing now and then for cracks and leaks.

Ask your doctor or nurse to show you how to use your blood pressure monitor the right way. When it is used the right way, your monitor will help you and your doctor control your blood pressure.

Understanding the medical words

  • Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of the artery.

  • Hypertension means high blood pressure.

  • The brachial artery is a blood vessel that goes from your shoulder to just below your elbow. You measure your blood pressure in this artery.

  • Systolic pressure is the highest pressure in an artery when your heart is pumping blood.

  • Diastolic pressure is the lowest pressure in an artery between heartbeats.

  • Blood pressure measurement is made up of both the systolic and the diastolic pressures. It is normally written like this: 120/80 mm Hg, with the systolic number first.

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Copyright © 2004 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

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