Tracking Blood Pressure at Home Can Help Protect the Heart, from the October 2013 Harvard Women's Health Watch

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Monitoring blood pressure at home is easy and convenient, and it can help women with high blood pressure fine-tune their treatment plan.

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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 the October 2013 issue of the Harvard Women's Health Watch:

  •     10 tips to prevent injuries when you exercise
  •     Breast cancer: when and how often to get screened
  •     Eating for good vision

Harvard Women's Health Watch is available from Harvard Health Publications, the publishing division of Harvard Medical School, for $20 per year. Subscribe at or by calling 877-649-9457 (toll-free).

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Natalie Ramm
Harvard Health Publications
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