A common question for many people is whether they should check their own blood pressure at home. This question is especially common among those recently diagnosed with high blood pressure, and many companies have capitalized on this making and marketing a variety of sphygmomanometers intended for purchase and use by the general public.
While the idea of home blood pressure monitoring sounds appealing at first, the reality is actually much more complicated than one may realize. In general, it is not recommended that patients attempt to self-monitor their blood pressure at home.
Difficulties Measuring Blood Pressure
The main reason that home blood pressure monitoring is problematic is because, quite simply, measuring blood pressure is hard! It is a technical and systematic skill that requires specialized training in order to perform correctly. In fact, some studies have even suggested that doctors should leave the mechanics of blood pressure measurement to their highly trained and well practiced nurses, who are more likely to produce consistent and accurate results.
Interpreting Home Blood Pressure Measurements
Measuring blood pressure is a technical skill, and because the vast majority of people are not technically qualified to perform an accurate blood pressure measurement, the usefulness of home measurements is highly variable. Untrained individuals are likely to make errors when performing the measurement, and may end up with readings that are much higher, or lower, than their actual blood pressure.
This can lead to unnecessary worry in people who incorrectly measure their blood pressure as elevated, or false peace of mind in people who are getting "normal" readings, but may actually have high blood pressure.
Home Blood Pressure Monitoring is Sometimes Needed
In some cases, it is useful to have patients check and monitor their own blood pressure.
These situations include:
- Whitecoat Hypertension
- Suspected Hormone Producing Tumors (pheochromocytoma)
- Extremely Elevated Blood Pressure
In all of these cases, however, patients are thoroughly trained, and are provided with high quality, certified equipment. This equipment is much different than the devices available to the general public.
These devices are:
- Researched and subjected to clinical trials
- FDA approved
- Correctly calibrated
- Operator independent
Casual Home Measurement is OK
There is nothing wrong with casual blood pressure checks at home, as long as you recognize that you should not necessarily trust the results to be very accurate. The "armchair" devices present in many modern pharmacies are a popular way to get a quick, approximate reading of your blood pressure. Remember, though, that you should be having your blood pressure checked by trained medical professionals during each doctor visit.
Professional Monitoring is Vital
While casual home blood pressure monitoring is unlikely to cause harm, it is of vital importance to have your blood pressure checked by a professional on a regular basis. Studies have shown that members of the general population, even when properly trained, tend to make more measurement errors than medical professionals, resulting in worse blood pressure control.
Research has also shown that professional measurement is superior to even the best automated blood pressure devices, and that the results obtained by professionals are more likely to correlate with actual blood pressure and have better predictive power.
Graves, et al., Does evidence-based medicine suggest that physicians should not be measuring blood pressure in the hypertensive patient? American Journal of Hypertension, 17(4)354-360, 2004.
Vinyoles, et al., Blood pressure measurement in an ambulatory setting: concordance between physician and patient self-measurement. American Journal of Hypertension, 17(1)45-50, 2003.
Graves, et al., The trained observer better predicts daytime ABPM diastolic blood pressure in hypertensive patients than does an automated (Omron) device. Blood Pressure Monitoring, 11(2)53-58, 2006.