Is Your High Blood Pressure Reading Accurate?
You're sitting on a hard, cold table with wax paper over it, your feet hanging off the floor. The room gives you the vague feeling like you're back in middle school waiting for the principal. You check your phone and wonder why these exam rooms are so cold. Just then the door opens, and a physician's assistant comes in. While making minimal eye contact, she
begins peppering you with questions. While talking, a strap is put around your arm and inflated and you’re told to stay still for a moment. With a loud "hisss" the strap is removed. She says your blood pressure is a little high. Maybe too high, but the doctor will be in a few minutes and he can give you more information. She finishes the intake, and with a brief "have a great day," is off to the next appointment. You sit with your mouth open slightly, a puzzled look on your face...
What just happened?
What is High Blood Pressure?
High blood pressure, or hypertension is defined as when the force of blood through your blood vessels is consistently high. Often called the "silent killer," high blood pressure has no symptoms but is still one of the leading causes of heart attack or stroke. High blood pressure is also common, with nearly half of American adults having high blood pressure.
Although commonly thought of as a disease by the general public, hypertension is simply your body responding to a stimulus that then causes the blood vessels to constrict. Said another way, high blood pressure is an effect, not a disease. Treating high blood pressure often involves drugs, but that should not be the end! It's true that for some patients’, drugs need be used to control blood pressure, but only until all other aspects of health including food, movement, stress and sleep optimization are addressed.
How to Get an Accurate Blood Pressure Reading
To get an accurate blood pressure reading, it is recommended that patients follow the following guidelines:
• Feet at ground level, with legs uncrossed
• Sit for 5 minutes prior to measuring
• No exercise for at least 30 minutes before the reading
• No caffeine or smoking for 1 hour and 30 minutes prior, respectively
• Setting should be quite and warm
• Bladder should not be full
• Subsequent measurements need to be taken at the same time per day
Think back to previous doctor visits. Was this your experience? If not, then your high blood pressure could be white coat hypertension, which describes high blood pressure readings while in the doctor's office with normal readings at home.
How to Know if You’re Hypertensive
For the diagnosis of hypertension, three measurements showing high blood pressure taken at least one week apart need to occur. When at the doctor's office, make sure the guidelines listed above are followed for an accurate reading.
Additional Methods to Increase Accuracy
24-hour ambulatory blood pressure monitoring:
Used as a way to take continuous measurements even while asleep, ambulatory measurements are taken every 20-30 minutes and averaged over the 24-hour period. This method is now strongly recommended to confirm a diagnosis of hypertension.
Intermittent blood pressure monitoring at home:
Although not a substitute for a doctor visit, if you are suspected to have hypertension, self-monitoring is one of the best ways of confirming a diagnosis, as well as keeping track of how treatment is progressing. If you need to purchase one, there are many options available. Just make sure to choose an automatic, cuff-style, bicep monitor, which is recommended by the American Heart Association.