Checking Blood Pressure

A Comprehensive Guide to Understanding and Monitoring Blood Pressure

People must understand the importance of regularly monitoring blood pressure since approximately one-third of the adult population is living with it. Checking blood pressure is crucial, since many individuals do not exhibit any symptoms. This is why blood pressure is often referred to as the “silent killer.” Uncontrolled blood pressure may lead to cardiovascular events like heart attacks or strokes.

The Importance of Checking Blood Pressure

Checking Blood Pressure
Checking Blood Pressure

Blood pressure is the measure of pressure under which blood runs in blood vessels. However, it can be confusing for many to understand the concept of two readings: systolic and diastolic blood pressure. The heart contracts and expands as it beats. During the contraction, the heart propels blood with maximum force throughout the body, exerting higher pressure on the walls of blood vessels. This higher pressure is known as systolic pressure, indicated by the higher reading on measuring equipment.

The subsequent phase is relaxation, during which the heart is filled with oxygenated blood from the lungs. This phase sees a slight decrease in arterial pressure. The lower value indicates the pressure during this relaxation phase and is termed diastolic pressure. BP is measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg), a unit indicating pressure. Manual blood pressure machines still use this scale, while electronic devices are calibrated accordingly.

Elevated BP places excessive strain on blood vessels, the heart, and the kidneys. Prolonged high-pressure levels within the circulatory system may result in breakdowns at various levels, as compensatory mechanisms cannot sustain this indefinitely.

Normal BP is systolic below 120 mmHg and diastolic below 80 mmHg. It’s important to note that blood pressure fluctuates throughout the day. Typically, it’s lowest in the morning after waking but can rise multiple times due to stressors during the day.

Blood pressure fluctuations during the day
BP fluctuations during the day (Image source: Experts call for home blood pressure monitoring. Harvard Health)

This variability prevents drawing conclusions based on a single reading. Moreover, understanding “white coat syndrome” is crucial—blood pressure rising due to anxiety during a doctor’s visit. This is one of the reasons why multiple readings at home provide a more accurate picture of one’s status.

High BP/Hypertension

Consistently or frequently having readings above 120/80 mmHg (either systolic or diastolic) is cause for concern. Initially, some individuals might have isolated systolic or diastolic high blood pressure.

The following table provides further information on blood pressure classifications:

Normal blood pressure & hypertension, as per the American Heart Association
Normal BP & hypertension, as per the American Heart Association (Image source: AHA)

Experts define hypertension as having at least three readings taken in a relaxed state when checking blood pressure, with systolic pressure above 140 mmHg or diastolic pressure above 90 mmHg. This revised classification introduces a “yellow zone” (elevated) when systolic pressure ranges from 120-129 mmHg and diastolic pressure is less than 80 mmHg. In this stage, a person doesn’t have hypertension when checking blood pressure, presenting an opportunity to lower BP through lifestyle changes like reducing salt intake, exercising, and managing stress.

Understanding Low BP

In contrast to the Western world, many individuals in India experience low blood pressure, accompanied by dizziness and weakness, particularly among females. Low BP entails readings below 90 (systolic)/60 (diastolic) mmHg. It’s concerning, potentially indicating malnutrition or an underlying chronic condition. Higher rates of anxiety among Indian women contribute to this complaint.

The Importance of Home Blood Pressure Monitoring

Regularly monitoring BP at home yields numerous benefits. It aids in early diagnosis, provides comprehensive data for medical decisions, and helps differentiate conditions like white coat syndrome, preventing misdiagnoses. Increased awareness and timely intervention can prevent severe complications, especially for individuals prone to “hypertension crisis“—sudden, dangerously high blood pressure spikes increasing the risk of heart attacks or strokes.

Tips for Accurate Home Blood Pressure Measurement

Here are essential recommendations from the American Heart Association for accurate home BP measurement:

  • Select a reputable blood pressure monitor; avoid relying on finger monitors or smartwatches.
  • Ensure the cuff fits properly, as an overly loose or tight cuff may yield inaccurate readings.
  • Minor differences in readings between the right and left arms are acceptable, but a difference exceeding 10 mmHg should raise concern.
  • Maintain a measurement journal or use a compatible app; some monitors sync data via Bluetooth to simplify tracking.
  • Measure BP at consistent times, with hypertensive individuals or those prone to crises advised to take multiple measurements throughout the day.
  • Avoid smoking, consuming alcohol, or drinking caffeinated beverages before checking blood pressure.
  • Sit upright with a straight back (e.g., on a dining chair) and support your arm on a surface like a table. The arm should be at heart level.
  • Avoid taking measurements over clothing.
Correct position
Correct position                               Position of Arm Cuff

Caring for Your Home BP Monitor

Modern bp monitors require minimal maintenance and can last for years. Regularly replace batteries and ensure the cuff remains in good condition. If doubts arise about accuracy, a medical professional can perform a checkup. It’s important to note that readings might be slightly higher in a doctor’s office. For most cases, concerns about digital bp monitor accuracy are unfounded; they are highly precise due to minimal human involvement. Errors may only occur in specific heart conditions like arrhythmia.

Published by

Dr. Aleksandar Grbovic

Hi! My name is Aleksandar Grbovic. I’m a radiology resident with five years of experience in General Medicine. As a medical writer, I have only one goal in my mind - to bridge the gap between doctors and patients point of view by breaking down complex medical topics and presenting them in lay people language. Knowing that my writing might help someone out there connect the dots is what keeps me motivated.

One thought on “A Comprehensive Guide to Understanding and Monitoring Blood Pressure

  1. The information provided here are very very important because the rise in blood pressure increases the risk for more health problems. Also high BP will damage your blood vessels and heart in long run.

    good luck and cheers!

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