Buying a blood pressure monitor & how to take readings.

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Taking your blood pressure is simple, easy and could end up saving your life! This lady is using the Omron M10-IT.
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Taking your blood pressure is simple, easy and could end up saving your life! This lady is using the Omron M10-IT.

So you need to purchase a blood pressure monitor?

There are many reasons why you may be on this guide.

You may have been to the doctors recently and been informed that your blood pressure is slightly higher than normal. You may have decided that you want to pay more attention to yourself and your health or you may have been made aware that hypertension is known as the Silent Killer - 1 in 3 adults in the UK have hypertension yet, despite its potential medical implications, many are unaware due to there being no symptoms. 

Regardless of your reason, you've made a great start on your journey to a "quantified self" (self-knowledge through self-tracking with the use of technology). 

Continue reading for our top tips on picking and purchasing a suitable monitor for your needs and how to use it to get the most accurate results.

The importance of "clinical validation"

A quick browse around eBay and other marketplaces will very quickly bring up a huge range of blood pressure monitors. You may find one that appears to be a bargain at a price that seems perfect, but be aware for fakes, copies and ones that can't claim to have clinical validation.

Clinical validation refers to the process where a blood pressure monitor is submitted for testing by the manufacturer. The testing process is long and extremely thorough and is normally carried out by a Doctor. The doctor will publish a paper at the end of the testing which details the outcome of all tests performed and the accuracy of the device. 

There are a few different organisations that validate monitors such as the BHS (British Hypertension Society), ESH (European Society of Hypertension) and AAMI (Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation). All these organisations carry out similar roles in different parts of the world and although they use slightly different criteria for validation (number of participants for example) they all provide a good, solid validation scheme to ensure monitors are as accurate as they should be.

More information on clinical validation can be found through dablEducational, a not-for-profit educational group for blood pressure who can be found on any search engine!
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How to pick a blood pressure monitor

Your first choice is upper arm vs wrist. Both types can be just as accurate as each other when used correctly. 

An upper arm monitor has the advantage that it is easier to use as there is no need to worry about how you are positioning your wrist. The downside of this is that they tend to be slightly larger monitors which aren't quite as portable as a wrist monitor.

A wrist blood pressure monitor is small, compact and nowadays, feature filled much like the upper arm alternatives. You can often pop a wrist monitor in your bag or handbag and take it with you in case you ever need it. The only downside is that you have to ensure your wrist and arm are positioned correctly to ensure an accurate reading - For more information on this, please refer to the manual or manufacturer's website.

Other features you may possibly want;
  • Built-in memory - Some store readings for 1 user, others can keep readings for 2 separate users separate.
  • IT-Connectivity - Many modern units allow you to connect them to your computer to download the readings for analysis and review at a later date.
  • Irregular Heartbeat Detection - Key if you have an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia such as atrial fibrillation) .
  • Cuff Wrapping Guide - Some intelligent monitors will tell you if the cuff is applied correctly or incorrectly which can help to eliminate incorrect readings.
  • Large/Small cuff - If you think you may need a smaller or larger cuff, always check the size of the cuff included and check to see if other sizes are available as optional extras if needed.
  • Averaging mode - A feature that is becoming more and more common is automatic averaging. For example, on newer Omron blood pressure monitors you can press a button and it will automatically average your last 3 readings taken in a 10 minute time period (keep reading to see why this is so important).
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Before taking your blood pressure

  • Always wait 10-15 minutes after consuming alcohol, tobacco or caffeine as these can affect your blood pressure.
  • Make sure you've been to the loo (if you need to!) and wait a while after having a bath or shower as the hot water will dilate your blood vessels which can lower your blood pressure.
  • Stay away from any form of physical exertion for at least 15 minutes before taking your reading.

Taking your blood pressure (step-by-step)

  1. Sit somewhere comfortable - Ideally, at a table/desk where you can sit with your back straight, feet flat on the floor, and with your elbow supported at natural height on the tabletop.
  2. Remove any thick jumpers or tops. If you are wearing a thin shirt, you will be fine keeping this on. Do not roll up your sleeves as this can cause the circulation from the top of your arm to become constricted and negatively affect the accuracy of the reading.
  3. Apply the cuff to your arm/wrist. Left arm/wrist is preferred as it gives a truer reading than the right which tends to be slightly lower. 
  4. Upper Arm: The cuff should be applied so that the bottom is roughly an inch from the crease in your elbow. The cuff needs to be somewhat tight around your arm (you should just about be able to insert one finger between the cuff and your arm) and the tubing should be positioned as per the manufacturers guidelines. For example, Omron blood pressure cuffs should be placed so that the beginning of the tubing is positioned in the middle of the inside of your arm.
  5. Wrist: Place the cuff around your wrist and secure it. Like upper arm, the cuff should be quite tight. If you notice that your wrist has a protrusion (bump) on the wrist joint this is most likely your Ulna - Some peoples protrude, others don't. If your ulna does protrude, ensure the cuff is applied slightly lower down your arm so that the bump isn't directly under the cuff.
  6. If you are using a wrist monitor, ensure that your wrist is kept at heart level by either placing your wrist across your chest (for example, if taking a reading on your left wrist, touch your right collarbone with your left hand fingertips) or by placing your elbow on the tabletop/desktop and then bending it so that your wrist is elevated.
  7. Ensure you are comfy and relaxed and then, when ready, switch the monitor on. Some will begin to take readings automatically when switched on, others will require you to press a few more buttons (please refer to the instruction manual for this).
  8. Breathe normally, relax and allow the monitor to inflate and then deflate the cuff. Once this has completed (it can take between 30 seconds to 2 minutes depending on monitor), your reading should be displayed on the screen. Either write the reading down or use the memory built in to the monitor (if available).
  9. The recommended process is to take 3 readings, 2-3 minutes apart. What you will often see is that the first reading will be higher than the second and third - This is completely normal and natural but not a true reading which is why it is recommended to discard the first reading.
  10. With the second and third readings, you can now average the Systolic (top numbers, where your heart is contracted), Diastolic (bottom numbers, where your heart is relaxed) and pulse to obtain an average reading that will be significantly more accurate than just taking one single reading.
Instructional video for taking blood pressure readings
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Instructional video for taking blood pressure readings

Wrapping up

Hopefully this guide has answered some questions - If you've read through this far, we will assume that you are definitely interesting in purchasing a blood pressure monitor so if you have any questions that haven't been answered, feel free to get in touch with us or send us a message.

If you're now feeling informed enough to make a purchase, check out our store for great deals on Omron blood pressure monitors.

Thanks for reading!
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