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Tracking blood pressure at home can help protect the heart, from the October 2013 Harvard Women's Health Watch

For the millions of women with high blood pressure, occasional blood pressure checks at the doctor's office might not be enough, according to an article in the October 2013 Harvard Women's Health Watch. Health organizations such as the American Heart Association and American Society of Hypertension recommend that people with high blood pressure monitor their pressure at home.

Regularly tracking blood pressure at home can help lower the risk for a heart attack—or other heart-related event—better than intermittent measurements at a doctor's office.

Dr. Randall Zusman, director of the Division of Hypertension at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital, recommends home blood pressure monitoring to his patients. "It gives them some feedback about how they're doing, and that helps reinforce the efforts they're making," he says.

When shopping for a blood pressure monitor, look for these features:

  • Buy a monitor that measures blood pressure in the upper arm. Dr. Zusman doesn't recommend wrist or finger monitors because they aren't as accurate.
  • Make sure the cuff fits around the upper arm. If it's too large or too small, the reading won't be accurate.
  • An automatic monitor is easiest to use because it doesn't require a stethoscope and the cuff inflates by itself.
  • Choose a monitor that meets standards set by an organization such as the European Society of Hypertension, Consumers Union (which publishes Consumer Reports), or Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation. The non-profit dabl Educational Trust has published a comprehensive list of recommended home blood pressure monitors.

Blood pressure falls into three categories:

  • Normal: less than 120 systolic and less than 80 diastolic
  • Prehypertension: 120–139 systolic or 80–89 diastolic
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure): 140 and higher systolic or 90 and higher diastolic.

When blood pressure is high or fluctuates significantly from day to day, it's important to talk with a doctor about starting or changing a treatment plan. "The control of blood pressure is a process that involves both lifestyle modification and drug therapy, and lifestyle modification may be as important, or more important, than drugs," Dr. Zusman says.

Read the full-length article: "How to monitor—and lower—your blood pressure at home"

Also in this issue of the Harvard Women's Health Watch

  • 6 numbers you absolutely need to know
  • Ask the doctor: Can tai chi improve balance?
  • Ask the doctor: What can I do about fecal leakage?
  • Important nutrients you could be missing
  • Research we're watching: Irregular heartbeat linked to earlier mental decline
  • Research we're watching: COPD rates rise in women
  • Research we're watching: New guidelines released for managing knee arthritis
  • Research we're watching: Lack of sleep harmful to women's hearts
  • Pain relief: Taking NSAIDs safely

More Harvard Health News »


About Harvard Health Publications

Harvard Health Publications publishes four monthly newsletters--Harvard Health Letter, Harvard Women's Health Watch, Harvard Men's Health Watch, and Harvard Heart Letter--as well as more than 50 special health reports and books drawing on the expertise of the 8,000 faculty physicians at Harvard Medical School and its world-famous affiliated hospitals.