Dear Savvy Senior,
Can you offer me any tips on choosing a home blood pressure monitor? I just found out I have high blood pressure, and my doctor told me I need a monitor for the house so I can keep an eye on it.
Almost everyone with high blood pressure or prehypertension should have a home blood pressure monitor. Home monitoring can help you keep tabs on your blood pressure in a comfortable setting. Plus, if you're taking medication it will make certain it's working, and alert you to a health problem if it arises. Here are some tips to help you choose a good monitor.
Types of Monitors
The two most popular types of home blood pressure monitors on the market today are (electric and/or battery powered) automatic arm monitors, and automatic wrist monitors.
With an automatic arm monitor, you simply wrap the cuff around your bicep and with the push of one button the cuff inflates and deflates automatically giving you your blood pressure reading on the display window in a matter of seconds.
Wrist monitors work similarly, except they attach to the wrist. Wrist monitors are also smaller in size and a bit more comfortable to use than the arm monitors, but they tend to be a little less accurate.
To help you choose the best monitor for you, here are several things you need to check into:
*Fit: Using a cuff that's the wrong size can result in a bad reading. Most arm models have two sizes or an adjustable cuff that fits most people. Make sure your choice fits the circumference of your upper arm.
*Accuracy: Check the packaging to make sure the monitor has been independently tested and validated for accuracy and reliability. You can see a list of validated monitors at dableducational.org.
*Ease of use: Be sure the display on the monitor is easy to read and understand, and that the buttons are big enough. The directions for applying the cuff and operating the monitor should be clear.
*Extra features: Many monitors come with additional features such as irregular heartbeat detection that checks for arrhythmias and other abnormalities; a risk category indicator that tells you whether your blood pressure is in the high range; a data-averaging function that allows you to take multiple readings and get an overall average; multiple user memory that allows two or more users to save previous readings; and computer connections so you can download the data to your computer.
*Portability: If you plan to take your monitor with you while traveling, look for one with a carrying case.
Where to Shop
You can find blood pressure monitors at pharmacies, medical supply stores or online, and you don't need a prescription to buy one.
The price will typically range anywhere from $30 to $120 or more. Unfortunately, original Medicare does not pay for home blood pressure monitors unless you're receiving dialysis at home. But if you have a Medicare Advantage plan or a private health insurance policy it's worth checking into, because some plans may provide coverage.
Some of the best arm monitors as recently recommended by Consumer Reports include the Rite Aid Deluxe Automatic BP3AR1-4DRITE; iHealth Dock BP3 (requires an Apple iOS device); Omron 10 Series BP786; A&D Medical UA767F; and the ReliOn BP200. And the top recommended wrist monitor is the Omron 7 Series BP652.
After you buy a monitor, it's a good idea to take it to your doctor's office so they can check its accuracy and teach you the proper techniques of how and when to use it.
For more information on how to measure your blood pressure accurately at home, see the American Heart Association Blood Pressure Monitoring tutorial page at homeBPmonitoring.org.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of "The Savvy Senior" book.