Recent advances in the field of medical technology, health care equipment and auxiliary devices paved the way for inexpensive, easy-to-use, digital blood pressure monitors that anyone could use in the comfort of their homes without specialized knowledge or training. This blog post is aimed at highlighting some of the important areas concerning monitoring blood pressure at home. This article mainly covers the following areas:
- What is a blood pressure monitor?
- How does the blood pressure monitor work?
- How the blood pressure is measured?
- Types of blood pressure monitors:
- The special type of blood pressure monitor
- What are the important uses and major benefits of monitoring blood pressure at home?
- What important features you should consider before buying a blood pressure monitor?
- Important tips for monitoring your blood pressure
These important areas are discussed here at length:
What is a blood pressure monitor?
A blood pressure monitor also called a Sphygmomanometer or a or blood pressure gauge is a piece of medical equipment used for measuring blood pressure. It was invented in 1881 by Samuel Sigfried Karl Ritter von Basch and has since been further modified with the latest complete automated version being developed in 1981 by Donald Nunn.
It consists of an inflatable cuff that tightens around the arm and a mercury manometer that measures the blood pressure. The inflatable cuff operates either by a valve pump manually or by electricity. Sometimes the physician, nurse or paramedics may use a stethoscope under the inflatable cuff for the auscultator technique. It is a technique used to listen to the sound of the internal organs, and sometimes doctors, technician or other health care professionals use a stethoscope under the blood pressure monitor to listen to the sound.
How does the blood pressure monitor work?
Most blood pressure monitors work almost the same way whether they are manual or digital. Both types contain cuffs, meters, and a pump. The only difference lies in whether the test is taken with the oscillometric method or auscultator method.
While checking your blood pressure it is important that your arm is held up at the same level as that of the heart and needs to supported by a cushion. Make sure you are comfortably posing and your back is properly supported while your legs are uncrossed. This position makes the circulation easier to measure. Moreover; the inflatable cuff has to be wrapped around the bare-skin of your arm so as no clothing or fabric gets between the cuff and the skin.
Once the cuff is wrapped, it is then pumped up and tightened around the wrap. The cuff restricts the flow of blood around your arm which may be mildly uncomfortable, but this is normal and lasts only for a few seconds.
A stethoscope is used while monitoring blood pressure manually to listen to the pulse as the pressure decreases on the arm. Sensors are used digital blood pressure monitors to detect the oscillation of pulse.
The blood pressure is then recorded on the arm just as the blow of the flow returns. The measurement on the device will give an accurate reading at two points as the flow continues. The results of the test are usually found right away.
Usually a healthcare professional may explain the results, or you can analyze yourself on the display monitor. In case you are self-monitoring and testing your blood pressure at home then it is important to understand the reading of the blood pressure monitor no matter what type of device you use.
Blood pressure is measured in millimetres and gives two figures; Systolic and Diastolic. Systolic is the amount of pressure the heart exerts while pumping the blood whereas, Diastolic is the amount of pressure of the heart when it rests between each beat.
- The blood pressure between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg is considered as normal.
- The blood pressure above 140/90mmHg is regarded as high.
- The blood pressure below 90/60mmHg is reckoned as low.
- Blood pressure between 120/80mmHg and 140/90mmHg implies there is a health risk. Hence you need to take measures to control and stabilize it.
Types of blood pressure monitors:
Blood pressure monitors are of two types; manual and digital. Each one comes with its own trade-offs in terms of accuracy, cost and convenience.
- Manual blood pressure monitor
The manual blood pressure monitor comprised of a cuff that wraps around your arm, a rubber squeeze bulb, and a gauge that measures the blood pressure. A stethoscope is needed to listen to the blood pulsing through the artery. You can see your blood pressure on the circular dial of the gauge as the needle moves around and the pressure in the cuff rises or falls.
The manual blood pressure device is mostly used by trained health care professionals who may use a stethoscope for the auscultatory technique. The manual blood pressure monitors can either use a mercury manometer or an aneroid gauge for measurement of blood pressure.
Mercury manometer is the best blood pressure measuring device and is referred to as the gold standard. Mercury manometer is efficient as do not need to be recalibrated after use, and give accurate measurements. It is widely used for measuring blood pressure of women particularly during pregnancy, high-risk patients and drug testing. Mercury manometer is sometimes mounted on walls and is referred to as Bauman meter.
Mercury blood pressure monitors use a column of mercury which can be a health hazard in rare cases. Therefore, aneroid gauges are used since they do not need any form of liquid for measurement. Aneroid blood pressure monitor is safer, easy to use, and gives an accurate reading, but it needs to be properly calibrated ever so often.
Hence, while mercury monitors give accurate readings, it may offer some health hazards at times since the liquid may have the possibility to leak out and may harm the individuals. Aneroid monitors need frequent calibration for accurate measurement. Besides, it does not have any drawbacks. When used correctly, manual devices use to enormously accurate. However, digital blood pressure monitors are being widely recommended for use in the home setting.
- Digital blood pressure monitor
The digital blood pressure monitor also has a cuff to be wrapped around the arm. To inflate the cuff, you may need to use a rubber squeeze ball. Other kinds will inflate automatically when you push a button. After the cuff is inflated, the pressure will slowly drop on its own. The screen will show a digital readout of your systolic and diastolic blood pressure. After showing your blood pressure, the cuff will deflate on its own. With most machines, you must wait for 2 to 3 minutes before using it again.
This digital device is essentially equipped with a microprocessor, inflatable cuff that can either be manual or automatic. In either case, the cuff is electronically operated and the monitor itself is quite easy to use even without any specialized training.
The digital blood pressure monitors do not use the auscultatory method, and instead, use the oscillometric technique with electronic calculations for the measurements. The oscillometric method depends upon the oscillations of blood flow in the veins such as pulses. This device measures the systolic and diastolic blood pressure of the individuals. Systolic refers to the maximum pressure the heart exerts while pumping blood, and diastolic refers to the level of pressure between the arteries between each beat of the heart. Digital monitors accurately measure pulse rates and blood pressure.
The digital monitors are compact, user friendly and give an accurate measurement of the blood pressure. However, they are quite sensitive and will give false readings albeit in rare cases. For instance, irregular heartbeat and movement will cause the readings to be misleading, while some health complications and conditions can also interfere with the readings such as arteriosclerosis- the stiffness of arteries. Furthermore, digital monitors are expensive and delicate. In case of damage repair is costly, and also time-consuming, while purchasing a new one will lighten the wallet.
Though digital blood pressure monitor may not be as accurate as expected particularly in conditions when your body is in motion while you are using it besides the irregular heart rate may make the reading less accurate, nevertheless, the digital monitor is the best choice for use in the home environment.
It is important to remember that the requirements of the use of different brands of blood pressure monitors used to be different, and hence there may be slight variations in the results. In fact, all results are approximate values, and the accuracy depends on the type of monitor being used and the precautions being undertaken while using the device.
The special type of blood pressure monitor
For some patients, in some conditions, the doctor may advise using an ambulatory blood pressure monitoring device. It is a special type of blood pressure monitor that measures the heartrate 24-hours while the person is going about their daily routine. This device automatically measures blood pressure every 30 minutes round the clock. It keeps track of the heart rate and blood pressure as the user performs their usual activities.
The device is in a belt-like shape and is tied around the waist with a cuff that is attached to the arm. It is compact, portable and can be carried around anywhere. In fact, the ambulatory blood pressure monitor can also be worn during sleep, and at no point does it ever impact your activities. It just measures the blood pressure.
Blood pressure monitors are mostly used in the hospitals, healthcare facilities and clinics for patients suffering from heart conditions and blood pressure-related complications. Though in some cases, blood pressure monitors can also be used at home for self-monitoring which is helpful in many ways.
Moreover, in the current Corona pandemic, the usage of blood pressure monitors in the home environment has multiplied as changes in the health management system has effectively moved health care from hospital environment to the home setting.
Some of the key benefits of monitoring blood pressure at home
Using a blood pressure monitor at home can help you in numerous ways such as:
- Monitoring your blood pressure at home can alert you with early diagnoses of high blood pressure problems, or other conditions. It is useful, especially for diabetic patients and those with kidney-related problems.
- Keep a track of your blood pressure with your medication regime and examine how effective the treatment is. Depending on the results, doctors may recommend changes in dosages and such.
- Keeping track of your blood pressure will surely help you to maintain self-control. And encourage you to be more responsible, and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
- Measuring the blood pressure regularly and frequently will enable you to know whether the condition is serious enough to visit a doctor or not. This will ultimately help in making fewer visits to the clinic.
- Assessing your blood pressure repeatedly and recurrently at home will enable you to see whether it deviates outside the normal blood pressure range at the doctor’s office. Doing so will assure you whether it’s a genuine heart problem or hypertension.
Some people experience irregular heartbeats, and therefore have irregular blood pressure readings. Hence a home monitor may give false readings in such circumstances. Hence, it is advised to consult your doctor for advice on what type of home monitor to be used depending on your conditions.
What important features you should consider before buying a blood pressure monitor?
Whether it is manual or digital monitors, you should consider the following key features before buying a blood pressure monitor:
- Cuff sizes: Make sure that the size of the inflatable cuff is not too loose nor too tight. Poor-fitting will give inaccurate readings.
- Display screen: It should be kept in mind that a clearer display is important otherwise it would be difficult to read the figures especially for those with vision impairments.
- Affordability: The blood pressure monitor should be affordable and within your capacity to purchase.
Again, it is important to talk to your consultant to know which blood pressure monitor is best suitable for your condition and whether it’s within your affordability range.
Important tips for monitoring your blood pressure
- While checking your blood pressure at home, you need to practice using the monitor with your health care provider or technician to make sure you are taking your blood pressure correctly.
- Your arm should be supported, with your upper arm at heart level and feet on the floor (back supported, legs uncrossed).
- It is best to measure your blood pressure after you rest for at least 5 minutes.
- Do not take your blood pressure when you are under stress, have had caffeine, or have recently exercised.
- Take at least two readings one minute apart in the morning before taking medicines and in the evening before taking supper. Try to measure and record blood pressure daily for five days and then report your results to your health care provider when required.
A blood pressure monitor is a useful medical device used by healthcare professionals, physicians and trained technicians at health care facilities for measuring blood pressure of patients who suffer from heart-related complications. But it can also be used for self-monitoring at home. The Covid-19 pandemic has enhanced its importance in the home-based healthcare management system. By examining the blood pressure properly and keeping a record, the users are enabled to lead a more responsible and healthier lifestyle.