While it may take a short few seconds at the doctor’s office, monitoring your own blood pressure at home makes it far more convenient. High blood pressure usually occurs without symptoms, and it is a contributing cause of death for over 360,000 Americans each year.
If age or other risk factors make frequent blood pressure checks necessary for you, it’s important to understand the differences between the many monitors/cuffs on the market. Even more so, it’s important to figure out your specific needs and find the model that’s right for you.
Understanding Blood Pressure
Any blood pressure measurement consists of two separate values, systolic and diastolic blood pressure. These are the blood pressures (measured in mmHg) during heartbeats and between heartbeats, respectively.
Blood pressure (BP) is reported as a single fraction, systolic/diastolic (ex. 115/70). Generally, 120/80 is considered as the upper bound for healthy blood pressure- anything higher is considered elevated, and blood pressures in the range of 140/90 could lead to a diagnosis of hypertension (chronic elevated blood pressure). It’s important to remember that any high BP measurements should be confirmed by a doctor before any action is taken.
Taking Manual Blood Pressure
When taking manual blood pressure at home, the same arm should always be used- ideally the same arm normally used at the doctor’s office. Measuring is generally easiest when seated- the blood pressure cuff should be around the upper arm, at about the same level as the heart.
- Wrap the blood pressure cuff around the upper arm, about one inch above the “elbow pit”.
- Place the bell (smaller side of the stethoscope head) on the brachial artery, directly below the cuff.
- Inflate the cuff to a pressure of 180 mmHg, then release the air slowly.
- Watch the dial while listening to the stethoscope. At the sound of the first audible heartbeat, take the systolic pressure. As the cuff continues to deflate, the heartbeats should be loud- once the volume of the beats drops drastically, take the diastolic pressure.
How to Calibrate a Blood Pressure Cuff
When using a manual blood pressure cuff, calibration is extremely important to make sure that measurements remain accurate. The easiest way to calibrate is to bring your manual device to a doctor’s office, where its measurements can be compared to an accurate blood pressure reading from your physician.
If your own cuff does turn out to be inaccurate, instructions for calibration vary from device to device, but it generally involves inflating/deflating the cuff while a knob is adjusted. Keep in mind that self-calibration is never a complete replacement for yearly accuracy checks at your doctor’s office.
Taking Blood Pressure on the Forearm vs the Arm
It is widely accepted that forearm BP measurements are not as accurate as upper arm BP measurements; however, sometimes a forearm BP measurement is the only available method (e.g. Having arms that are too large for the cuff).
A comparison of upper arm and forearm measurements (Domiano, et al., 2008) found that forearm measurements were greater by an average of +4.0/+2.3 mmHg . If it’s necessary to take a forearm measurement, the cuff should be no more than an inch from the elbow pit, and should be reversed (the same side should always be closest to the elbow).
Another decision to consider when taking blood pressure is which arm to measure- they will rarely differ by more than 10 mmHg, but there is quite often a noticeable difference between readings on the left and right upper arm. Generally, doctors base their decisions off the higher blood pressure of the two, so it is usually a good idea to take the blood pressure of both arms as a precaution.
Buying the right home blood pressure monitor is a crucial choice. If you decide that a manual monitor is right for you, it’s equally important to know how to use it once it comes out of the box.
Omron 5 Series Blood Pressure Monitor
Highly rated yet affordable, the Omron 5 Series is a high-quality monitor with an eye for value. Despite an abundance of features, it comes at a significantly lower price than competitors with similar options.
Pros and Cons
- Blood pressure is displayed as the average of three separate measurements.
- Works with 2 separate users- stores 50 measurements per user.
- Notifies user if an irregular heartbeat is detected.
- Compares blood pressure readings to a “BP level bar” that represents a healthy individual.
- A few instances of inaccurate measurements have been reported.
Contoured “Wide-Range” cuff makes measurements more comfortable, and fits medium to large adult arms (9-17”).
Omron 3 Series Blood Pressure Monitor
The Omron 3 Series is hard to beat as a budget BP monitor- it offers several of the features of other Omron models, all for a very reasonable price.
Pros and Cons
- “One-Touch” operation makes home use quick and simple
- Alerts the user if irregular heartbeats are detected during BP measurement.
- Memory is limited to 14 measurements. Does not have the standard “BP level bar” seen on other Omron models
“Wide-Range” (see Omron 5 above), fits arms 9-17”
Care Touch Wrist Blood Pressure Cuff
This model blends the convenience of an at-home blood pressure monitor with a simple and compact wrist-mounted display. Monitor and cuff are combined into one device for easy use.
Pros and Cons
- Stores up to 60 BP readings
- Detects irregular heartbeats and alerts user
- Large backlit display
- Per instruction manual, wrist mount requires that the user lie in a precise position for accurate readings.
Standard size cuff fists wrists 5.5-8.5”
SantaMedical Manual Blood Pressure Cuff
If you are comfortable with your ability to take your own blood pressure manually, the SantaMedical Manual BP cuff is both extremely accurate and extremely affordable. Among manual blood pressure cuffs (also known as sphygmomanometers), SantaMedical offers a superior choice.
Pros and Cons
- Lack of digital features make this monitor affordable, plus no electricity is required.
- Blood pressure readings are highly accurate.
- High contrast dial is easy to read.
- Lacks the automatic storage features of digital monitors. Requires manual calibration. 1 year warranty
Standard adult, 10-16”
Omron 10 Series Wireless Monitor
With multiple smart features that allow for smartphone linking, the Omron 10 Series is an advanced wireless model that can fulfill almost every need. Given its large array of features, which include Bluetooth, it is one of the most complete models on the market, and it is priced accordingly.
Pros and Cons
- Averages three consecutive readings for a more accurate measurement
- Memory bank can save up to 200 readings
- Detects irregular heartbeats
- Links to the Omron app on iOS and Android, which can store unlimited BP readings.
- Automatically compares readings to a healthy adult standard.
- Some issues with longevity have been reported.
Standard adult (9-17”)
The Bottom Line
Monitoring your own blood pressure at home is an important task, but the right equipment can make it a lot easier.
- The Omron 5 Series has the best cost to benefit value of all the models we reviewed.
- The Omron 3 Series keeps the essential features at a lower price point.
- Care Touch offers a wrist mounted device that combines monitor and cuff into one compact package.
- If you can get by without digital memory and automatic readings, SantaMedical provides an extremely affordable manual monitor that will give you the accurate readings you need.
- On the other end of the spectrum, Omron also offers a smart BP monitor. Although it comes at a higher price, it has all of Omron’s best features, and it can connect to smartphones for unlimited storage.
Whether you’re concerned about price, or storage, or accuracy of your blood pressure readings, there exists a combination that is right for you.
 “High Blood Pressure (Hypertension).” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 12 May 2018, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-pressure/symptoms-causes/syc-20373410.