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How to take your blood pressure at home

Tips for using a blood pressure cuff or wireless blood pressure monitor for accurate readings.

Man uses a wireless blood pressure monitor.
Taking your blood pressure at home is easy with a digital blood pressure monitor.

Every time your heart beats, it pumps blood through your circulatory system, putting pressure on your blood vessels -- the veins, arteries and capillaries. This is known as your blood pressure and without it, your bones, muscles, organs and other tissues wouldn't get the oxygen and nutrients they need. Your body's various systems, like the immune and digestive systems, also wouldn't function without blood pressure. 

But there can always be too much of a good thing, right? High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, occurs when the force against your blood vessel walls becomes too high, which can kick your heart into overdrive and lead to serious health problems like heart attack and stroke. 

The scary thing is that high blood pressure usually doesn't come with any symptoms. It's so symptomless, in fact, that it's nicknamed the "silent killer." Anyone at risk for high blood pressure should stay keenly aware of their blood pressure levels. Even if you're generally healthy and don't have a family history of hypertension, it's still worth checking your blood pressure every so often. 

Since you probably won't trek to the doctor's office every day, week or month to get checked, here's a handy guide to monitoring your blood pressure at home. 

QardioArm Blood Pressure Monitor

The Quardio Arm wireless blood pressure monitor


How to use a blood pressure cuff at home

You could always inflate a manual sphygmomanometer with a hand pump and count Korotkoff sounds in your head, but why would you when wireless, digital blood pressure monitors are so readily available these days? They don't have to be expensive, either: Some models sell for less than $30 a unit

Plus, you're way more likely to get an accurate blood pressure reading if you use a digital cuff -- there's less room for error. To take your blood pressure at home with a digital blood pressure monitor, all you have to do is: 

1. Slide the blood pressure cuff onto your upper arm and secure it so that it sits snugly about one inch above the crease of your elbow. 

2. If you have an automatic model, simply push the button that inflates the cuff. If you have a manual model, use the hand pump to inflate the cuff. 

3. After the cuff fully inflates, air will automatically start flowing back out. 

4. Look at the screen to get your blood pressure reading. 

5. If you need to repeat the measurement, wait a few minutes before attempting a new reading. 

The best at-home blood pressure monitors are automatic, accurate and meet the standards of the American Heart Association (AHA). If you're in the market for one, make sure to look for these two very important components of at-home blood pressure monitors

Woman measuring her blood pressure, France

At-home, digital blood pressure monitors can be worn on the wrist or upper arm, depending on what model you choose.


Tips for getting an accurate blood pressure reading

To accurately monitor your blood pressure over time, you shouldn't just plop down in a chair whenever to do a reading. Instead, you should implement some simple practices that help ensure accuracy. 

1. Take your blood pressure at the same time of day for every new recording.  

2. Avoid caffeine and alcohol at least 30 minutes prior to your reading.  

3. Avoid exercise within 30 minutes of taking your blood pressure.  

4. Sit up straight and be still throughout the measurement.  

5. Take multiple measurements and record all of the results with the date and time.  

6. Don't wear the blood pressure cuff over clothes. 

Read more: Blood pressure, heart rate and sleep: The best iPhone and Apple Watch health devices

home blood pressure monitor

Your blood pressure should be easy to read on a digital monitor, like this one.


Taking your blood pressure manually 

Manually taking a blood pressure reading isn't complicated, but it should be done by a trained medical professional. If you want to take your blood pressure at home, you are better off using a digital blood pressure cuff to eliminate user error that could cause unreliable readings.

Read more: Omron HeartGuide: My life with a blood pressure smartwatch

What is a healthy blood pressure? 

According to the AHA, a healthy blood pressure is one that stays below 120/80 mmHg. 

Read more: Blood pressure, heart rate and more: Health stats that are way more important than body weight

Understanding blood pressure readings

Blood pressure readings are written as two numbers. It usually looks like a fraction, followed by the letters "mmHg." For example, 120/80 mmHg. 

The first number is your systolic blood pressure, which refers to the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart beats. The second number is your diastolic blood pressure, which refers to the pressure in your blood when your heart rests in between beats. 

The "mmHg" stands for "millimeters of mercury." Doctors used mercury in the first accurate blood pressure monitors, and the unit has remained the standard for measurement. 

Every time you take your blood pressure, the reading will fall into one of five categories. Here's a breakdown of the different blood pressure categories. 

Close-up: A man holds a smartphone in two hands with a blood pressure reading on the screen.

The top number is your systolic blood pressure, and the bottom number is your diastolic blood pressure.

Getty Images

Normal: Less than 120/80 mmHg. You're doing great! Keep eating healthy and exercising regularly.

Elevated (prehypertension): 120-129 systolic and less than 80 mmHg. Example: 125/75 mmHg. Make some small tweaks to your lifestyle, such as adding aerobic exercise to your day and keeping stress levels low, to reduce your risk of developing hypertension. 

Hypertension stage 1: 130 to 139 systolic or 80-89 diastolic. Examples: 131/75 mmHg and 127/85 mmHg. Doctors will prescribe lifestyle changes at this stage and may prescribe medications depending on your risk of atherosclerotic and cardiovascular diseases. 

Hypertension stage 2: Systolic of 140 or greater or diastolic of 90 or greater. Examples: 140/80 mmHg and 130/100 mmHg. Doctors will almost definitely prescribe medication to keep your blood pressure under control, as well as lifestyle changes to help lower your blood pressure naturally. It's really important to maintain healthy habits if you've reached this stage of hypertension. 

Hypertensive crisis: Systolic higher than 180 and/or diastolic higher than 120. Requires immediate medical attention. If your reading suddenly surpasses these amounts, wait five minutes and test again. If the reading doesn't decrease, call your doctor right away. 

If your reading surpasses these numbers and you also have symptoms such as chest pain or dizziness, don't wait to do another reading -- seek medical care immediately. 

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.