Guide to Correctly Using a Blood Pressure Cuff
A blood pressure cuff is a reusable or disposable inflatable device that can be used with a blood pressure monitor to measure blood pressure. The bladder, or cuff, is inflated using either a handheld pump or an automatic compressor. While inflating, the pressure meter lets you know the pressure of the cuff. There is also an air valve inside the cuff, which deflates when the monitor has successfully taken a blood pressure measurement. You may need to take a blood pressure measurement outside of your doctor's office, which you can do with your own personal blood pressure home monitor. There are many types of blood pressure monitors available for home use. It's important to learn how to use a blood pressure cuff to deliver accurate readings, which you can use to manage your health going forward. This guide will cover everything you need to know about home blood pressure monitoring using a cuff.
Why might you need a blood pressure cuff?
There are a number of reasons why you might need to monitor your blood pressure at home. If you have high blood pressure, known as hypertension, regularly taking blood pressure measurements will help you to make sure your condition is under control. In fact, it is recommended by the American Heart Association that people with hypertension keep track of their blood pressure with an at-home monitor. You can generally get a better reading at home, when you are surrounded by your own material comforts, with no risk of experiencing "white coat syndrome" - a phenomenon in which your blood pressure rises above normal while you are in a clinical setting. A blood pressure monitor can help with a number of factors, including:
- Diagnosing high blood pressure earlier than occasional trips to the doctor's clinic could allow for
- Enabling you to track how your body is responding to treatment, diet and lifestyle changes
- Encouraging you to be proactive in treating your high blood pressure to help it return to a normal range
- Checking to see if your blood pressure differs at home to at the doctor's clinic
Digital vs Aneroid Blood Pressure Monitoring
There are two main types of blood pressure monitors, digital and aneroid. Both are widely used in medical situations today, but aneroid monitors are the cheapest, while digital monitors are more popular amongst users wanting to carry out simple blood pressure monitoring at home. Some devices are easier to store in a handbag and carry around with you, while others are bulkier and take up more space. Opt for something smaller if you plan to take your monitor with you on the go, such as to work. At Sensoronics, we offer an inexpensive FDA approved digital blood pressure monitor for at-home use, as well as a full line of NIBP cuffs for EMS use.
Aneroid Blood Pressure Monitors
Aneroid monitors have a gauge that you can use to read your blood pressure measurement. This type of monitor is portable and can be used in almost any location, as it doesn't require plugging in or charging. Aneroid monitors require you to manually inflate the blood pressure cuff using a pump.
Digital Blood Pressure Monitors
Digital blood pressure monitors are generally considered the better option for home blood pressure monitoring. Digital monitors are more advanced and have easy to read screens. In the case of digital monitors, inflation is automatic. Most blood pressure monitors cost between $25 and $50, with the more technical models costing up to $100. One thing to keep in mind is that you will most likely get a more durable, long-lasting and accurate model if you're prepared to pay a little more. Consider how long you plan to use your device when deciding how much to spend. Some devices offer a number of additional features, like body movement and irregular heartbeat indicators, or the option to view and compare your previous readings. Some high-end digital monitors even give you a paper copy of your reading, which you can store away for reference or take to your doctor's office. These can help you to produce a more accurate reading and enjoy a more convenient use of the device.
How to use a blood pressure cuff
Once you've figured out which type of monitor is best for you it is important to apply your blood pressure cuff correctly. Like any piece of medical technology, from a patient's point of view, using a blood pressure cuff can seem quite daunting at first. You might be afraid of doing something wrong or perhaps producing an incorrect reading without knowing. You will find that the process is very straightforward though, especially when using a digital blood pressure monitor. Your cuff and monitor will usually come with a user manual, which will explain everything you need to do for that specific device. If you don't have a user manual there are a few things worth considering if you want to get the most accurate reading from your blood pressure monitor. Before using your cuff, it is important to make sure that:
- You wait at least 30 minutes after consuming caffeine, or alcohol, or smoking tobacco
- You have rested for five minutes or waited for your heart rate to slow down
How do you put a blood pressure cuff on yourself?
- Firstly, make sure you are sitting in a comfortable position, and your arm is elevated above your heart. You don't need to reach your arm right up over your head - resting it on a tabletop will do.
- Next, wrap the cuff around your upper arm (or ask someone to do it for you). You want it to be snug, but not too tight, so that when you inflate the cuff, it doesn't cause too much discomfort. You can check for tightness by making sure that you can fit a finger between your arm and your cuff.
- Your arm needs to be bare when you fit the cuff, so make sure your clothing or any other material doesn't get in the way.
- The cuff should be placed about an inch up from the inside crease of your elbow.
If you have a friend or family member who can put the cuff on for you, this may prove the easier option. Remember that you're the one who can feel the cuff around your arm, so if it feels too tight or the placement seems wrong, be sure to let them know. Once you have put on your cuff, here's what you should do next:
- Switch on the power to turn the monitor on (most will automatically inflate when turned on).
- The blood pressure monitor will automatically deflate the cuff when it is done taking a measurement.
- The display screen will show your blood pressure measurement. If necessary, make a note of the reading to add to your records.
- Turn off your blood pressure monitor and Repeat the process if necessary, but wait 5 minutes before doing so.
How to know that your reading is accurate
A normal blood pressure reading is 120/80 or lower. The first, higher number is the systolic pressure reading, and the second is the diastolic pressure reading. The systolic pressure is the highest pressure your blood reaches when your heart pumps, while diastolic pressure is the lowest pressure your blood reaches when your heart relaxes between pumps. If your systolic pressure hits 140 or higher, and your diastolic pressure hits 90 or higher, you may have prehypertension - meaning you have a chance of developing high blood pressure. You should know your "normal" blood pressure readings from visits to your doctor and your previous blood pressure checks. If your at-home blood pressure measurement is reading abnormally high or low, you might wonder whether your monitor is still working correctly. The best thing to do in this situation is to book an appointment with your doctor. They can measure your blood pressure using their own cuff to compare the two readings. If your reading is relatively more normal at the doctor's office, it may be that there is a fault with your blood pressure monitor. There are several signs you can look out for that indicate if your cuff is working incorrectly. With a digital monitor, you will usually see an error message on the screen, which will tell you if there is a problem with flow. If your monitor is cracked or your cuff is worn, this may also cause issues when you inflate the cuff. Whether your blood pressure monitor looks fine to you or not, you should take it to your doctor on a once-yearly basis for a professional check-up. Your doctor can assure you that your monitor is still working correctly.
Additional things to keep in mind when using a blood pressure cuff
- Using a cuff that is the wrong size, specifically one that is too small may affect the outcome of your reading. If you don't know what size to go for, bigger is always better - but don't aim for something so big that your upper arm will be swamped. It's important to check with your doctor, who will be able to tell you what size to go for before you purchase a blood pressure monitor.
- You may not always have someone to help you put on your cuff, so try to go for one that you can easily put on your arm. Another easy-use feature is automatic inflation, and a digital screen is easier to read than a dial. Check customer reviews for your product of choice to learn about simplicity of use.
- It is normally obvious when you are dealing with a cuff that is too small. One way to check is to strap the device to your arm and see if you struggle to fasten the velcro. You may also find that the material doesn't sit in the right place against your arm. If it is too loose, it may slip down your arm rather than sitting comfortably in one spot.
- It is possible for a tight blood pressure cuff to alter your diastolic or systolic pressure reading ever so slightly. The material shouldn't dig into your arm, nor should you find it difficult to fasten in the right place.
- A tight cuff can actually raise your blood pressure up to 15 points. Pay a visit to your doctor if you think you might need to use a looser alternative.
Blood pressure monitors offer one of the simplest ways to monitor your health if you are dealing with hypertension. By being aware of your daily readings, you can make the relevant changes to your diet and lifestyle to reduce your blood pressure and enjoy a healthier life going forward. Remember that while monitoring your at-home blood pressure is important, you should never do this as a substitute for visiting your doctor. Make sure to visit your doctor as advised, and book an appointment as soon as possible if you notice an abnormality in your reading.