A frequent topic of discussion at the pharmacy is blood pressure. What do the numbers mean? How often should I check my blood pressure? What is the best way to check it? How do medications affect it? There are a lot of misconceptions. Let’s break down all of these questions and get you started on a healthy blood pressure monitoring plan.
What does “blood pressure” mean?
Blood pressure is the term used to describe how easy or difficult it is for your heart to pump blood and oxygen to the rest of your body. When your heart beats, it pumps blood and oxygen through your arteries. If there is not enough pressure, the blood will not sufficiently reach everywhere it needs to go. If there is too much pressure, your heart will have to work harder than necessary to get your blood circulated. Think about drinking through a straw. It is usually quite easy to do. However, if you try to drink a thick milkshake through the straw you have to work harder to drink it. This is what it is like for your heart to pump blood when your blood pressure is high. Now imagine that you have a piece of ice stuck in the straw. You won’t be able to drink and you will wear yourself out if you keep trying. This is what your heart goes through if your arteries are blocked. Maintaining a healthy blood pressure can prevent your heart from overworking itself.
When you check your blood pressure, you will get two numbers. The “top” number is your systolic pressure. This number measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats. Your systolic goal should be between 90 and 120. The “bottom” number is your diastolic pressure. This number is the pressure when your heart is at rest between beats. A healthy diastolic pressure is between 60 and 80. A healthy blood pressure goal for most adults is to be between 90/60 and 120/80. Here is a more specific breakdown for all age groups.
Most blood pressure monitors will also measure your pulse rate. Pulse rate is the number of times your heart beats per minute. Your goal for a resting pulse rate should be between 60 and 100 beats per minute.
Where can I go to have my blood pressure checked?
Your doctor will always check your pressure at the beginning of every appointment. This isn’t enough to get a true picture of how you are doing. You must check on a more regular basis than that. Plus, some people are nervous about what is about to happen in the office, causing their pressure to rise. The doctor’s office is not an ideal place to get a real reading.
The pharmacy or the grocery store has a big, cool looking machine you can use. These machines work fairly well and you can visit as often as you like. Some of them will measure your BMI and even give you an eye test too! These machines sometimes will let you login and will keep a log of your results for you. All of this is great, but I question how often the machines are calibrated. I see kids playing on them, and adults using them incorrectly. Using a machine at a store is ok for occasional use. I wouldn’t count on this as my only means to getting my results.
The best answer to the question is that you don’t have to go anywhere to get your blood pressure checked. You can purchase a home monitor and take the readings yourself. It is safe, easy, accurate and doesn’t take long to do. The best part is that you will be in a controlled environment. You can take your pressure at the ideal time to get the truest results. To help you even more, I have created a list of a few blood pressure monitors that I recommend. You can read that article here.
What do I use to check my own blood pressure?
Checking your blood pressure at home is easy. The most accurate way is to buy a stethoscope and a sphygmomanometer (cuff with bulb attached). Advanced training will be needed for this method. I believe today’s automatic monitors are accurate enough to where you will not need to learn how to do this. I really just wanted to use the word sphygmomanometer.
Go to the pharmacy and buy a monitor to use at home. There are a lot to choose from. I suggest buying a fully automatic one, meaning all you have to do is put the cuff on and push the button. The machine will do the rest, including recording your results for you. Avoid wrist monitors. They are usually not as accurate as the ones that go around your upper arm.
There are may different models to consider. Some are very basic and just give you a reading with no memory. Some will keep anywhere between 10 and 200 readings in memory so you can track any trends. Others will allow you to track multiple users. The most advanced monitors will automatically sync results to your phone or health apps using bluetooth.
In my next post I will list some specific blood pressure monitors for you and recommend a few based on your budget. Stay tuned for that.
Proper procedure for using a blood pressure monitor
Your blood pressure can change from minute to minute based on many different factors. Because of this reason, it is important to be in a proper environment and use proper procedure to ensure the most accurate results. If you have high blood pressure, I recommend that you test about twice a day. Morning and night would be a good schedule and try to keep it consistent. Consistent monitoring will help you identify trends with your pressure. If you don’t have high blood pressure you can get by with checking maybe a couple of times per week.
Activity, stress, and caffeine intake can all raise your blood pressure. Be sure to try to avoid all three of these for up to 30 minutes before you use your monitor. Here are the steps:
- Sit still in a chair with your feet flat on the floor (not crossed), and rest your back against the chair for a couple of minutes before taking your reading.
- Prop your arm up near the level of your heart on a table or armrest, palm facing upward.
- Tighten the cuff around the upper part of your arm. Be sure you have the proper size cuff for your arm. You will get the best results if you put the cuff over bare skin, not clothing.
- Adjust the cuff so that the cord from the cuff runs down the inside of your arm toward your palm.
- Press the button and remain still and quiet while the machine takes its reading.
- Try to take a couple of readings separated by about a minute to ensure accuracy. Some monitors will do this for you automatically.
Record your results and be sure to share them with your doctor. You might even want to take your monitor to the office with you, so the doctor can monitor your technique and check the accuracy of your monitor. After your technique is praised, be sure to tell them you learned it here!
What if my readings are high?
If your readings are consistently above 120/80 be sure to let your doctor know. If you have any one reading where the top number is above 160 or the bottom number is above 100, re-test and seek immediate medical advice if the results haven’t changed.
There are many lifestyle adjustments you can make to combat high blood pressure. Diet and exercise are key. Avoid foods high in sodium, fat, and sugar. Eat more vegetables and lean meats. You know: eat more good stuff, eat less bad stuff. Maintaining a healthy diet is not as complicated as a lot of “experts” (or should we call them marketers) would have you believe. Shoot for at least 30 minutes of exercise at least 5 days per week. Mix aerobic exercise with weight or resistance training. Both are very important. Some people will still need medication even if their diet and exercise routine is perfect. If you are one of these people, take your medicine. Don’t avoid starting it. It is not a big deal and it is far better to take a pill once daily than to get ice stuck in your straw.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle will do wonders for your blood pressure, cholesterol, and stress levels. It will reduce stress, give you more energy, help you rest better at night, and generally just put you in a better mood every day. I know it is hard to find the time with your busy life. Make it a priority. You will be glad you did.