In our last post, we ran down ways to prevent high blood pressure, as well as information on why blood pressure matters. In this post, we’ll discuss how you can actually check your own blood pressure as well as ways to manage the condition, should it affect you.
What Does a Blood Pressure Reading Look Like?
Before you dive into taking your own BP, you should know what you’re looking for. Blood pressure is written as two numbers. The first is your systolic pressure, and this represents the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart beats. The second is your diastolic pressure and this is the pressure in your vessels when your heart rests between beats.
Normal blood pressure is at or less than 120/80, or 120 mmHg (systolic) and 80 mmHg (diastolic). If you’re above that, you’re considered at risk for high BP (prehypertension) or you are high risk for high blood pressure.
How to Check Your Blood Pressure
First, you need to prepare your body for this, so find a quiet place – you’ll need to listen to your heartbeat. Make sure that you feel relaxed, comfortable, and at ease. You may also want to use the bathroom before you check as a full bladder can sometimes affect your blood pressure reading.
Once you’ve settled in, take a deep breath, roll up your sleeve, and rest your arm comfortably at heart level, stretched out (a chair next to a table works great) with the palm facing up. Sit up straight and don’t cross your legs.
Then, it’s time to check using either a manual or digital blood pressure monitor. You’ll want to locate your pulse inside the bend of your elbow (use your index and middle fingers to press lightly) and then secure the cuff of the machine over the artery where you’ve located your pulse. Inflate and deflate the cuff (depending on the model of machine you have, this step can range from inflating manually to pressing a button) and use a stethoscope to hear the beat of your pulse (if you’re doing this manually). If you’re using a manual blood pressure cuff, watch the gauge as you inflate to make sure that it reads about 30 points (mm Hg) above your expected systolic pressure. Then, slowly release the pressure in the cuff, it’ll fall 2-3 points with each heartbeat. Listen for the first pulse beat when you deflate and that will be your systolic pressure. Then, when you can no longer hear the beat, as it deflates, it’ll be your diastolic pressure. If you’re going digital, follow the instructions of your make and model of blood pressure monitor. (HINT: Want to see this in action? Here’s a good YouTube video to walk you through taking your BP.)
Once you have your reading, record it along with any notes that can affect the reading, such as stress, diet, exercise, etc. Keep a record for you to review with your healthcare professional to discuss your risk for high BP or other health concerns.