Monitoring your blood pressure at home could save your life

WASHINGTON — Using blood pressure monitors at home could save lives and millions of dollars in health care costs.

The monitors help keep daily tabs on the status of patients already diagnosed with hypertension, making treatment more effective. They’re also a welcome tool for those with a wide array of risk factors.

“Measuring your own blood pressure on a regular basis is one of the easiest ways to identify problems and reduce your risk of serious medical problems,” says Dr. Warren Levy, chief medical officer of Virginia Heart.

Roughly one in three Americans has hypertension; Levy says studies have shown that adding regular home monitoring can cut their risk of death by 25 percent.

“I think anyone who has high blood pressure, and is on medication for it, should be checking their blood pressure at home,” Levy says.

Part of the reason has something to do with a phenomenon known as  “white coat syndrome.”

“They walk into the doctor’s office, they get a little stressed, they are nervous and their blood pressure goes up  as a result of that,” Levy explains.

Home monitoring may provide a cleaner reading in a calmer setting, especially when it is done at different times of the day, and different days of the week.

It’s also a good idea for people who carry risk factors for hypertension — including family history, obesity, and advanced age. Patients with sleep apnea are more prone to high blood pressure, as are some pregnant women.

There is one small group of at risk patients, however, that should avoid home blood pressure monitoring. These devices have trouble giving accurate readings when faced with an irregular heartbeat, so they are not recommended for people with rhythm abnormalities, like atrial fibrillation.

Overall, though, home blood pressure monitors do a pretty good job — even the simple, relatively inexpensive ones.

“These home blood pressure monitors are easy to use, battery operated and generally with the push of a button you get a digital readout,” Levy says.

Of course there are more sophisticated devices available for those who are more technologically inclined. Some interface directly with a smartphone or connect to the internet where results can be picked up by a physician.

Current guidelines recommend most adults aim for a reading of 140/90 or lower. But Levy says recent findings suggest for many people a better target may be 120/80.

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