Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a serious medical condition. It increases your risk of heart disease, stroke, and death. Medical guidelines say hypertension is blood pressure chronically above 130/80 mmHG. High blood pressure is a national problem, with around 85 million people in the US having it. There are many different causes of high blood pressure, but experts agree living a healthy lifestyle reduces your risk of developing it.
Hypertension is often called the “silent killer,” since there are often few or no symptoms. Regular blood pressure monitoring with the familiar blood pressure cuff is really the only way to catch it before it’s too late. The official name of the monitor is a sphygmomanometer, but you might know it as a blood pressure meter, monitor, or gauge. It consists of an inflatable rubber cuff that fits around the upper arm. When you increase the pressure in the cuff and gradually release it, it’s able to determine the correct blood pressure.
If you’re at risk for hypertension, your doctor might ask you to get a home blood pressure monitor and check your pressure frequently. But did you know that blood pressure meters are very sensitive? Certain things can drastically raise your blood pressure reading. Your doctor may even put you on medication, or raise your dose, based on an inaccurate reading. The American Heart Association says that whether you’re taking your blood pressure on your own at home or you’re at the doctor’s office, make sure your reading is accurate. Here are some things you can do to make sure your reading is as accurate as possible:
Use the bathroom first.
If you have a full bladder when you check your pressure, it can add 10 to 15 points to your reading. This can easily tip you over the scale into high blood pressure. Always use the bathroom before using the blood pressure monitor.
Sit in a supportive chair with your feet firmly on a flat surface.
Not supporting your back or feet well can raise your reading by 6 to 10 points. Likewise, crossing your legs can add 2 to 8 points. Make sure your chair supports your back well, and your feet are flat on the floor or on a stool.
Keep the cuff level with your heart.
Your blood pressure reading could be 10 points higher than the actual number if your arm is not supported well enough. Don’t hold up your arm or let it hang by your side while the cuff is working. Rest your arm on a counter or other chest-level surface during the test.
Place the cuff on your bare arm.
Wearing the cuff over your clothing can add anywhere from 5 to 50 points to your reading. You should always push up your sleeve and wrap the cuff around your bare arm. If you know you’re going to the doctor, make sure to wear clothing with loose sleeves that are easy to push up. You should also make sure the cuff is the proper size. If it’s too small it can raise your reading by 2 to 10 points.
Stay still and silent.
Talking or fidgeting can add 10 points to your blood pressure reading. Stay still and silent while the cuff is on you for an accurate read.