With new health goals come new tools to help you achieve those goals. If you’re trying to keep an eye on your blood pressure, for example, you’re probably doing some research on how to use a blood pressure cuff, a type of blood pressure monitor, to keep track of your numbers at home. Sure, there might be some trial and error at first, but learning how to use a blood pressure cuff is much simpler than you might think.
When Do You Need a Blood Pressure Cuff?
Obviously, if you have a condition such as high blood pressure, it’s important to stay on top of your numbers consistently, not just when you have time for a trip to the doctor’s office. But what about taking your own blood pressure at home? Using a blood pressure cuff is perfect for taking readings on your own time.
“When you go to the doctor, that’s just a snapshot of how your blood pressure is doing,” says One Drop coach, Lisa Graham, a registered nurse (RN) and certified diabetes care and education specialist (CDCES). “Monitoring away from your doctor gives you a better picture of what your blood pressure is at different times during the day and how your blood pressure may respond to various situations, medication, food, exercise, and more.”
According to Anthony Puopolo, MD, a board-certified physician based in California, using a blood pressure device, such as a blood pressure cuff, at home can also be a great preventative step for those who are managing their weight. Obesity is often associated with high cholesterol and insulin resistance, both of which can increase the risk of high blood pressure. High cholesterol can cause narrowing of the blood vessels, increasing the pressure inside of them, while insulin resistance can mean there’s an increased amount of glucose in your bloodstream, which, in itself, can raise blood pressure. (Learn more about the link between weight and blood pressure here.)
To that end, living with diabetes can also increase your risk of developing high blood pressure, says Graham. So, in addition to any diabetes management supplies that you might use—from a glucose meter to test strips—you can also add a blood pressure monitor to your toolkit so you can lower your risk for high blood pressure by taking preventative steps as needed.
For most people, hypertension has no symptoms, notes Graham. In other words, the only way to know something might be wrong with your heart health is to measure it directly and consistently. That is worth repeating: Hypertension can have no symptoms—pretty remarkable considering what an impact heart health can have on your life, right?
What Type of Blood Pressure Monitor Do You Need?
There are two types of blood pressure monitoring devices: automatic (or digital), which basically listens to your blood pressure and generates a reading for you, and manual, which is the kind that involves a stethoscope and requires you to actively listen to your heartbeat (a.k.a. the type of blood pressure cuff you typically see at your doctor’s office).
While digital blood pressure monitors are much easier to use than manual monitors, the “most accurate” readings come from manual blood pressure cuffs and stethoscopes at the doctor’s office, says Graham. To ensure accuracy with an automatic monitor, be sure to compare blood pressure readings taken at home with those you get from your doctor. It also doesn’t hurt to bring your monitor into your next appointment so a doctor or nurse can confirm you’re using it correctly, that it fits properly (if it’s too tight, it could produce falsely elevated blood pressure levels), and that the device works the way it should.
Doctor’s Office Tip: It also doesn’t hurt to bring your monitor into your next appointment so a doctor or nurse can confirm you’re using it correctly, that it fits properly, and that the device works the way it should.
While most blood pressure cuffs are placed on the upper arm, some blood pressure cuffs now measure blood pressure at the wrist instead. However, according to the Mayo Clinic, wrist blood pressure cuffs aren’t as accurate because arteries in the wrist are typically narrower and not as deep under the skin as those in the upper arm.
In order to create the best offer on the market, we partnered with Withings to provide the BPM Connect Blood Pressure Monitor in our Complete Heart Health and Complete Blood Pressure collections. This includes an upper arm cuff that connects with the One Drop app to generate deeper insights about your health (more on that here).
How to Use a Blood Pressure Cuff at Home
Every blood pressure device will work slightly differently, so be sure to follow the instructions provided with your blood pressure cuff. If you’re using a Withings BPM Connect Blood Pressure Monitor with your One Drop app, here’s how to set it up.
Generally speaking, the key to ensuring an accurate reading is to be as calm, cool, and collected as possible prior to checking your blood pressure. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends avoiding caffeine, smoking, and exercising for at least 30 minutes before measuring your blood pressure. Graham also suggests using the bathroom beforehand (a full bladder can sometimes raise blood pressure) and checking your numbers two or three times total, waiting at least one minute between measurements.
“Try monitoring your blood pressure once in the morning and once in the evening to establish what your baseline readings are,” adds Graham.
For more tips on how to use a blood pressure cuff and check your numbers accurately, follow the steps outlined below:
Interpreting Your Blood Pressure Numbers
Reminder: Your blood pressure reading is given in two numbers: The top number, your systolic blood pressure, shows how much pressure is exerted against the artery walls with each heartbeat. The bottom number, your diastolic blood pressure, measures the force against the artery walls in between each heartbeat. For most adults, a reading of systolic blood pressure under 120 mm Hg and diastolic blood pressure under 80 mm Hg (or <120/<80) is optimal. If the top number reaches 130 or higher, or the bottom number is 80 or higher, the AHA recommends talking with your doctor about possible heart health risks and next steps. (Learn more about how to lower your blood pressure and boost heart health.)
“I always say the numbers are important because they tell us how we’re doing,” says Graham. “These numbers can guide our actions and our progress.”
By monitoring your blood pressure on your own time and understanding your blood pressure trends, you can communicate any changes in your health to your doctor as soon as you notice them, instead of waiting for the next time you can get an appointment on the calendar.
Ready to get proactive about your heart health? Explore what our Complete Blood Pressure and Complete Heart Health collections have to offer for your self-care plan, from smart scales and blood pressure monitors to one-on-one health coaching.
This article has been clinically reviewed by Jamillah Hoy-Rosas, MPH, RDN, CDCES, and VP of clinical operations and program design at One Drop.