Home Health: How To Accurately Take Your Blood Pressure At Home

Hypertension is known as the silent killer - but now you can monitor your blood pressure at home and see how effective your medication is.

So you've been diagnosed with hypertension, or high blood pressure - what do you do now? Sure, you're on medication, but you can't run to the doctor's office every time you feel stressed out or want to check on how well the medication is helping lower your pressure.

One option is to check your blood pressure at home, but you're no nurse or doctor with years of medical training. So can you check it without a doctor's visit, and should you?

Certainly! And it's not hard or difficult and will take only a few minutes of training.

First, we have to understand what exactly high blood pressure is and why it's bad for the body. High blood pressure means exactly what it sounds like; that the blood circulating through your body is at a much higher pressure than it should be. Your heart, which is responsible for pumping the blood through the veins and arteries, has to work harder and harder to keep the pressure going and the blood distributed through your vital organs. High blood pressure puts a strain not only on the heart, but the kidneys and other major organs, which can lead to a stroke and/or a heart attack in the long run. It is also called the silent killer because you can't tell that you have high blood pressure just by how you feel, or how someone else looks. It can only be discovered through taking your pressure readings over a long period of time.

Most blood pressure readings have two numbers, such as 120/80. But what do those numbers mean? The first is the Systolic number, representing the peak blood pressure your body is giving out. The second is the Diastolic, or the lowest pressure your blood is at - usually between heartbeats, as your heart gets a chance to rest. These two numbers are measured in millimters of mercury (mm Hg).

But wait, there's no mercury around you! That's correct - but the original devices that measured this pressure used a column of mercury to show the results on a gauge - the same one that you see in the doctor's office. Even though this device is no longer the single way of checking your blood pressure the measurement has remained to make sure that everyone is on the same wavelength when communicating about levels of blood pressure.

So what's normal and what's not? Well, the average adult should have a blood pressure reading of 119/79 or below - that is, a Systolic pressure of 119 (when the heart is working its hardest) and a Diastolic of 79 (when your heart is resting between beats and the pressure is less). Readings of 120- 139 (Systolic) and 80-89 (Diastolic) are defined as prehypertension, or in the warning area. Anything above that is classified as true hypertension and is usually controlled with medication. If you are a woman and become pregnant, your doctor will need to monitor you closely throughout your pregnancy to make sure that your blood pressure doesn't endanger you nor your baby.

So now that you know what you're dealing with, let's figure out how you can check your blood pressure at home. You can either get an automatic or manual blood pressure monitor, depending on what your doctor recommends.

A reference from your doctor at this point would be a good idea - more and more advertisements for these devices are showing up in magazines and on television, and while the price may be right the technology may not be. Getting an inaccurate reading on your blood pressure can lead to overdosing and major health problems in the future, so make sure that if you do invest in a home device that you discuss it thoroughly with your doctor in regards to the brand and type.

The manual monitor usually involves a blood pressure cuff and will mimic the procedure you go through at the doctor's office with a stethoscope and a gauge. The automatic monitors are usually much smaller and involve just a cuff with an electronic gauge mounted on the cuff itself - when you activate it the cuff will inflate and give you a reading. These are usually more expensive due to the technology involved.

One of the concerns that people should have when taking their blood pressure at home is when, exactly, to take it. "White coat anxiety" happens to a lot of people when they visit the doctor's office. That is, their blood pressure goes up due to anxiety. But you can put yourself in the same sort of situation at home when you take your blood pressure reading just after a family argument, or a heated discussion with the television set. The optimum time to take a reading is when you are seated and comfortable with the surroundings, calm and as relaxed as you can be.

Make sure to keep in touch with your doctor regarding all readings and your procedure. The doctor may want to see how you do your own blood pressure reading to make sure you're using the equipment properly or to assure you that your medication is making a difference.

High blood pressure is still known today as the silent killer and takes lives every day. But you can help keep your blood pressure under control with a bit of knowledge and awareness of the problem. Taking your blood pressure at home will help your doctor and yourself in treating hypertension and keeping it at bay.

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