Get an Accurate Blood Pressure Reading
Follow these steps to ensure that your next blood pressure reading is correct
One of the first things I learned as a medical student was how to take someone’s blood pressure—and I quickly discovered that if my technique wasn’t consistent, the readings would fluctuate up and down like a yo-yo!
Because getting an accurate blood pressure reading is an important first step to controlling high blood pressure, I want to share with you the three guidelines I follow when checking my patients’ blood pressure.
1. Refrain From Talking
When taking a resting blood pressure reading, I don’t let people talk. Talking drives your numbers up. As a group, air traffic controllers have higher-than-normal blood pressure. They’re under enormous pressure—and they talk all the time.
2. Try to Relax
It’s clichéd but true—the worst place to take a blood pressure reading is in a doctor’s office.
Many people come in with considerable anxiety (hyperarousal), and that drives the numbers up. There’s even a name for this phenomenon—“white coat hypertension.” This is why I have more faith in home blood pressure readings than I do in those recorded in a doctor’s office. It’s also why I avoid taking blood pressure if the patient rushed getting to my office, especially when he or she was caught in traffic, when the outside temperature is very cold, or when some emotional stress issues are ongoing.
The bottom line: Remain calm before and during the blood pressure check.
3. Position Yourself Properly
Research has shown that the results of your blood pressure reading can be affected if your pressure is taken while you’re sitting on an exam table without arm or back support, or while your feet are dangling instead of being on the floor. Standards adopted by the American Heart Association—and I agree with them—therefore call for patients to be:
- Seated with their back supported
- A bare arm should be resting on a table so that when the cuff is placed on the upper portion of that arm it is at “heart level”
- Feet should be on the floor
- The stethoscope bell—or sensor—should overlay the brachial artery, which is at the inside of the bend of your elbow, where a pulse can usually be found
For standardization and accuracy, blood pressure should be taken exactly the same way every time.
However, if you are monitoring your blood pressure at home, I recommend taking it at different times throughout the day and averaging your readings to get the best sense of what your current pressure is. Doing this is important because blood pressure fluctuates over the course of the day, and you don’t want all of your readings to be taken at a time when it’s naturally high or low.
WATCH: How to Properly Take Your Blood Pressure at Home
More Dr. Sinatra Advice on Understanding Blood Pressure
What should your blood pressure reading be? Find out what your blood pressure numbers should be and what causes high blood pressure.
What are the symptoms and risk factors associated with high blood pressure? Learn about the health consequences of having high blood pressure.
Are you a woman with blood pressure concerns? Discover why women are especially susceptible to high blood pressure and its negative impact on health.
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Meet Dr. Sinatra
Dr. Stephen Sinatra is a highly respected and sought-after cardiologist and nutritionist with more than 30 years of clinical practice, research, and study. His integrative approach to heart health focuses on reducing inflammation in the body and maximizing the heart's ability to produce and use energy. More About Dr. Sinatra
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