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How to take your blood pressure at home

Duncan Reid: Patient Safety & Professional Services Manager | minute read

It’s now more possible than ever to keep track of different aspects of your health on the move thanks to the increasing range of at-home healthcare devices and electronics. Heart health is one such aspect, and blood pressure devices allow for regular monitoring as an indicator for how your heart is performing. Blood pressure monitors enable you to take blood pressure readings at home and can be helpful for a range of scenarios. Your GP might ask you to keep a record of your blood pressure for a period of time for example, or a healthcare provider might ask you for a recent reading if you’re accessing a remote service, such as Pharmacy2U’s NHS pharmacy contraception service. If you’ve been diagnosed with hypertension (high blood pressure), an at-home blood pressure monitor can help you keep an eye on your condition and seek medical advice if you’re concerned about your results.  

With so many blood pressure monitors now available to buy, we’ve put together this guide to help you understand what they are, how to use them, and which option is best for you.

What is a blood pressure monitor and how does it work?

A blood pressure monitor lets you test your blood pressure to make sure it’s not too high or too low. Most monitors typically use a cuff that’s placed on the upper arm and inflated so it tightens, temporarily preventing the blood from flowing. When the cuff is first deflated, the monitor records a number known as your systolic reading (top number). This indicates your heart’s pressure output when it beats. The diastolic reading (bottom number) measures the force your heart exerts in between beats.

How to read a blood pressure monitor?

Blood pressure readings are always given with the systolic first, followed by the diastolic. A ‘typical’ blood pressure result would be read out as, “120 over 80”, and written as 120/80mmHg for example. The NHS describes a blood pressure between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg as within normal range. A reading under 90/60mmHg is said to be low blood pressure (also referred to as hypotension) while a reading of 135/85mmHg is classed as high (hypertension). You can learn more about the causes of hypotension and hypertension, along with their symptoms and potential treatments in our blood pressure guide. It’s worth noting that these readings are a guide, and a healthcare professional may give you a target blood pressure that’s tailored to you taking into account things like your age and current health. If you have any worries, always speak to a pharmacist or GP about what your blood pressure reading could mean for you.

A step-by-step guide to taking your blood pressure at home

You can take an accurate blood pressure reading at home by following a few simple steps.

  1. Choose a time when you’re able to rest. Allow yourself time to relax so the blood pressure reading reflects your body’s state when it’s not stressed.

  2. Sit upright with your back straight, legs uncrossed, and feet flat on the floor.

  3. Ideally, the arm you’re using should be at heart level, with your hand relaxed and unclenched. You can rest it on a table or chair arm to bring it in line with your heart.

  4. Place the blood pressure monitor cuff around your upper arm and use the Velcro to secure it, leaving enough of a gap to fit two fingers between the cuff and your arm. If your monitor has a tube (some devices have an ‘all in one’ design with no tube), secure the cuff so that the tube attached to your monitor runs down the centre of your arm.

  5. When you’re comfortable and relaxed, turn on the monitor and press start. The cuff will inflate and tighten briefly before deflating.

  6. The machine will then show your blood pressure reading. The way this is shown may vary slightly depending on the device you have, but it should be clearly displayed so you can make a note of it. Some devices have app connectivity, meaning they’ll automatically send your reading to a mobile app on your phone. It’s important to keep a note of your readings over a period of time as this will help your GP to spot any patterns in changes to your blood pressure and possibly help them to give you a diagnosis.

  7. It can be a good idea to take two or three readings within a few minutes of each other to ensure they’re similar.

  8. The British Heart Foundation recommends taking your blood pressure at the same time each morning and evening if recording readings for your GP or healthcare provider.

You can watch a step-by-step video put together by the British Heart Foundation that shows you how to take your blood pressure.

What should I do if I get an abnormal reading?

If your reading falls outside what’s defined as a normal blood pressure range, there are several steps you can take to get advice and support.

It’s always worth taking two or three readings to make sure the initial result wasn’t an anomaly. If your blood pressure is consistently outside this range across several readings, contact your GP surgery for an appointment to discuss your results with your doctor. The British Heart Foundation has a dedicated heart helpline for confidential information and support from a cardiac nurse. They can help you with questions you might have and offer guidance on managing blood pressure at home.

The best blood pressure monitors to use for self-testing

The NHS recommends using an upper-arm blood pressure monitor rather than a finger or wrist monitor. We offer a selection of BIHS-approved monitors from leading brands, including A&D and Omron, at our pharmacy shop. Each model will offer slightly different features, allowing you to choose one that best fits your needs. Some blood pressure monitors are compatible with mobile apps, meaning you can keep your recordings in one place on your phone. Look for a model with a latex-free cuff if you’re prone to allergies. Some models have been specifically tested and approved for use during pregnancy if you’re monitoring your blood pressure when expecting a baby.

Have a chat with your doctor or pharmacist when choosing an at-home blood pressure monitor. They’ll be able to recommend the best option for you based on your specific health needs. You can find more heart health information and advice in our Heart Health Hub.