I was pretty shocked to learn that nearly half of American adults suffer from high blood pressure or hypertension as it is referred to by the medical profession. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) hypertension is actually the leading risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

“The tragic thing is that approximately 80% of deaths are considered preventable,” says Judy Hannah, a senior adviser at the CDC.

I personally agree with that statement as I totally believe prevention is better than cure.  So besides diet and exercise, is there something we can do to prevent hypertension creeping up on us?

The good news is yes!

One of the first steps towards prevention is to monitor your own blood pressure. Even better news is the fact that blood pressure devices are actually not expensive, easy to use and easy to obtain.

According to a 2018 study in The Lancet (a medical journal), monitoring your own blood pressure at home is one of the most accurate ways to test it.

Why?  Because DIY blood pressure monitoring avoids a common syndrome known as “white-coat syndrome.” 

The first time I ever came across this terminology was when I was working for the Health Promotion Unit in the UK running fitness assessments on various workforces. I was in the middle of assessing the local fire department when one fire fighter arrived with his own blood pressure written down. He stated that he had taken it that morning before attending the assessment because he suffered with “white-coat syndrome.”  This syndrome causes erroneous high readings when a blood pressure machine is presented to them by a medical professional. They become anxious and their blood pressure artificially spikes due to fear as opposed to it being their actual blood pressure. 

The Lancet study indicated that people who checked their own pressure at home reduced their risk of stroke by 20% and heart disease by 10% compared to people who depended on health care workers to take it.

So there are 4 easy steps to measuring your own blood pressure:

  1. Purchase a blood pressure device – you can find them easily in any pharmacy or by searching online. They do not have to be expensive or complicated; in fact the simpler the better.
  2. Do not exercise, smoke, eat a large meal, take cold medicine or drink caffeine for at least 30 minutes prior to taking your blood pressure.  If you are actually already taking medication for elevated blood pressure, take it after you have performed the measurement.
  3. Sit with your back straight, feel flat on the floor with your legs uncrossed. Place the cuff so it fits snugly on your bare skin directly above the bend in your elbow or on your wrist.  Place your arm, palm facing upwards, on a table or another surface that is around heart level.
  4. Press the start button.  Stay still and relaxed.  Don’t take a call, have a chat with someone, text, browse Facebook or watch tv. Once the cuff has inflated it will start to deflate slowly and totally deflate on completion. Your machine will indicate, often with a bleep, that it has your results. Your blood pressure numbers will appear on the screen. You will probably see three numbers your Systolic (SYS), your Diastolic (DIA) and your Pulse. Record your numbers in a tracking log, keeping them in the order you see on the screen.

It is advisable to take your blood pressure around the same time each day, morning is preferable. You can then share your readings with your doctor at your next appointment.  I would also advise taking your monitor with you so your doctor can check it for accuracy.

Just before I leave it there, if you were wondering what your Systolic and Diastolic numbers indicate, here is a quick explanation.

The systolic pressure is the amount of pressure pushing against your artery walls during the contraction of your heart muscle.  

The Diastolic pressure is the amount of pressure pushing against your artery walls when the heart muscle is in-between beats.

Hope that helps!