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Putting The Cuffs On Hypertension

Have you been tested for high blood pressure? Your doctor may put a cuff on your arm as part of a routine check-up to test your blood pressure. Caused by blood pushing too hard against the walls of your blood vessels, high blood pressure (hypertension) can be a serious medical condition. If your levels are above normal, you might be at increased risk for heart disease and stroke.

Your doctor can test your blood pressure levels at a clinic or hospital, but you can also test your blood pressure yourself. Measuring your blood pressure at home is helpful for two reasons. First, some people get higher-than-usual blood pressure readings at the doctor's office, usually because they are a bit nervous. Second, people with hypertension need to monitor their blood pressure regularly. Blood pressure normally changes daily, rising during activity and falling during sleep. The best way to get good readings is to check yourself at the same time of day.

If you have hypertension, you should take occasional readings at different times during the day and evening. This can help you determine the effects and effectiveness of blood pressure medications. Ask your doctor how often you should monitor your blood pressure.

If you test your blood pressure at home, you have three types of home monitors to choose from:

  • The manual inflation device. Wrap the cuff around your arm and use a pump to inflate it.
  • The automatic inflation device. Push a button to inflate the cuff. It then deflates at the rate needed for an accurate test.
  • The wrist cuff. Wrap the cuff around your wrist and push a button to inflate the cuff.

Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about whether home monitoring is a good idea for you and which type of monitor would best suit your needs.

Most home monitors give extremely accurate readings. The monitor will show systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Systolic, the higher number, refers to the measurement taken when your heart contracts. Diastolic, the lower number, refers to when your heart expands. Most home monitors also show a reading on your heart rate or pulse (how many times a minute your heart is beating). Normal rates vary between 60 and 100 beats per minute. Many monitors have a tiny computer in them that lets you compare a reading with previous ones. Make sure you get a cuff size that fits well. If it's too small or big for your arm or wrist, it may give false readings.

Here's a list of the standards a home monitor uses for measuring blood pressure. Depending on your medical conditions, your doctor may recommend different blood pressure targets. For example, people with diabetes may need to have lower blood pressure standards than 130/85. Talk to your doctor to find out what your targets should be.

Category Systolic Diastolic
  below 130 below 85
Upper end of normal
  130-139 85-89
High Blood Pressure
Stage 1 140-159 90-99
Stage 2 160-179 100-109
Stage 3 above 180 above 110

Stage 3 is a serious hypertensive reading. If you have a Stage 3 reading, contact your doctor immediately.