Should You Take Your Blood Pressure Every Day? A Cardiologist Weighs In
There are plenty of ways to take your blood pressure outside of your doctor's office. Testing cuffs are generally available for public use in stores and in some medical facilities. But does that mean that you should be monitoring your blood pressure outside of your annual physical exam? And if so, how often? We asked a cardiologist to find out.
If you are generally healthy and you don't take medications that require close monitoring, you can most likely get away with only having your blood pressure checked once or twice a year. Your annual visit with your internist or gynecologist is usually sufficient, according to Leonard Pianko, a board-certified cardiologist from Aventura, Florida. "If you are taking medications and your blood pressure is stable, you should check it periodically (once or twice a week), based on your physician's recommendation," he says. "If your blood pressure is unstable, then checking it once a day is recommended." However, Dr. Pianko advises against checking it with any greater frequency. "More than that can make you nervous and affect the reading."
The goal of any reading is for the results to be accurate and reproducible. "There are a couple of ways to monitor blood pressure," Dr. Pianko says. "I like the digital monitors since they are the easiest to use, though sometimes you have to repeat it more than once." He also prefers the cuffs that are placed on the upper arm, since they give you a more reliable reading. If you purchase a machine for home use, he recommends that you keep your receipt. "You want to practice and bring the results to the doctor's office to make sure they correlate," he says. "If there are large discrepancies, you may consider returning the one you bought and trying a different one." If you're curious about your numbers and don't have a reliable pressure cuff that you can use in your home, you can test your pressure for free at many grocery stores and pharmacies.
If you're checking your blood pressure at home, you'll need to be able to make sense of the results you get. To do that, Dr. Pianko says you need to understand what you're looking at. "Your heart has two functions," he says. "Systolic pressure (the top number) measures the contraction of the heart. Diastolic pressure (the bottom number) measures the relaxation of the system." Dr. Pianko says that doctors used to be more concerned about diastolic pressure (the relaxation of the system), but since there are some issues that present with just systolic elevation (which is categorized by a systolic number of more than 150), there is a need for a holistic approach to readings. If your self-administered reading comes back with a concerning number, you should recheck it to make sure you weren't getting an erroneous reading. If you're able to repeat those numbers, you should call your doctor to discuss any concerns.
In the end, Dr. Pianko says that monitoring your blood pressure is helpful, but only when done so accurately. Wayward numbers help neither you nor your doctor. Plus, if you're over doing your monitoring, or administering this test incorrectly, you may be setting yourself up for unnecessary stress—which certainly won't help your blood pressure in the long run.