Home measurements – why and how to check your blood pressure

5th January, 2023 • 8 min read

Testing your blood pressure at home is simple to do. “It’s helpful to check it,” says Healthily expert

Dr Ann Nainan
. “About 1 in 3 U.S. adults with high blood pressure aren’t even aware they have it, and so miss out on self-care and treatment to lower it and reduce the heart health risks that come with it.” Find out how you can check your own blood pressure, the best time to take blood pressure at home, and what to do with your results.

Check your blood pressure at home

Some experts say we should know our blood pressure numbers in the same way we know our height and weight. “Blood pressure can vary, so you need to get into a routine to check it at the right time, and regularly enough for it to be helpful,” says Dr Ann. Once you have that information, you can take steps to reduce it if you need to.

What is blood pressure?

Dr Ann says, “When your heart pumps blood around your body, the blood pushes against the walls of your blood vessels. The force of this push is your blood pressure.” It can help you understand how healthy your arteries are or whether they might be clogged up or narrowed by cholesterol, or other problems.

Who should check their blood pressure at home?

“High blood pressure doesn’t usually give you any symptoms,“ says Dr Ann. “So it’s worth checking yours if you have any of the known risk factors for developing it.”

  • age – the older you are, the greater your risk. But high blood pressure doesn’t just happen to older adults. Nearly 1 in 4 US adults aged 20 to 44 have high blood pressure
  • family history – if you have a close relative with high blood pressure, you may be at higher risk
  • being overweight – carrying extra weight puts extra strain on your heart
  • sex – men are more likely to have high blood pressure up to the age of 65 but after 65, women have an increased risk
  • ethnicity – people of black African or black Caribbean origin tend to develop high blood pressure
  • lack of regular exercise, which is bad for your health in general
  • eating too much salt, sugar and saturated and trans fats – salt increases the amount of fluid in your blood, which puts more pressure on your blood vessels
  • drinking too much – regular consumption of alcohol can cause blood pressure to rise
  • smoking – smoking can push up your blood pressure temporarily, and in the longer term, it can make your arteries narrower and stiffer, which can also raise your blood pressure

What your blood pressure reveals about your health

A healthy blood pressure reading should be below 130/80 mmHg. If your reading is over this, you’re heading into high blood pressure territory.

High blood pressure (hypertension) means your heart has to work harder to push the blood around your body. Over time, if your blood pressure isn’t controlled, this can lead to issues such as heart, kidney and eyesight problems.

What does a blood pressure reading look like?

Your blood pressure is recorded in two figures:

  • systolic pressure – the top number. This is the pressure in your blood vessels while your heart is beating
  • diastolic pressure – the bottom number. This is the pressure in your blood vessels when the heart relaxes between beats

A blood pressure reading will look like two numbers and some letters: 140/90 mmHg.
This is because blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg) – because mercury was used in the first measurement gauges.

Type of blood pressure Systolic pressure Diastolic pressure
Low 70-90 40-60
Ideal 90-120 60-80
Pre-high 120-140 80-90
High 140 and above 90 and above

How to check your blood pressure at home

“It’s best to buy a blood pressure monitor to use at home,” says Dr Ann. Make sure you choose one that’s

validated for clinical accuracy
, read reviews or ask your doctor for any recommendations before you buy.”

Best time to take blood pressure

When you check your blood pressure at home, there are a few things you need to know about timing.

  • make sure you do it at the same time every day whenever suits you - for example, when you first wake up or before bed
  • wait at least 30 minutes after doing anything that can temporarily affect your blood pressure before you measure it, such as:
  1. after eating, your body directs blood to the digestive system, which can lower blood pressure
  2. stress or anxiety can increase your blood pressure
  3. smoking, chewing tobacco or vaping also pushes it up
  • note down these other things that can affect your blood pressure when you track your measurements, in case you need to talk to a doctor about them:
  1. cold weather can narrow your blood vessels, forcing your heart to work harder
  2. medications, such as the contraceptive pill or some anti-depressants, can raise blood pressure
  3. ‘white coat syndrome’ – your blood pressure may go up when you’re talking to a doctor, one reason it’s a good idea to get used to taking your blood pressure at home, rather than having it done i your doctor’s office

How to check your blood pressure at home

Dr Ann says, “You should take your blood pressure sitting down. Standing up can give you a lower reading, which may not be an accurate measurement of your blood pressure.”

Keep a record of your readings to help you keep track of your blood pressure and see if any steps to control it, such as medication or lifestyle changes, are working. If you’re worried about your results, the average is higher than normal, or have any questions, talk to your doctor.

  1. Sit upright in a chair, with your back supported, and keep your feet flat on the floor. Now, you’re ready to check your blood pressure
  2. Check the instructions that come with your monitor, as they may vary. If you’re not sure you’re using it properly, ask your doctor for advice
  3. Rest your arm on a table and don’t clench your fist during the reading
  4. Pull the cuff up your arm, to just above your elbow, and tighten. It should be about the same level as your heart
  5. Make sure that the tubing is leading away down your arm, and that you can still fit two fingers under the cuff
  6. Switch your monitor on. You’ll feel the cuff tighten around your arm – it may feel a bit uncomfortable, but this is normal
  7. Keep still and don’t talk, as talking can affect your reading
  8. Make a note of your reading – some monitors will give you print out
  9. Take 2-3 readings, 1-2 minutes apart. If your first reading is much higher then you can ignore it. Once you’ve got a few readings that are similar you can take an average

How often should you take your blood pressure?

Although it’s important to know your blood pressure, it’s not a good idea to check it too often. You may wind up getting very stressed about small changes that happen naturally from day to day. You can ask a healthcare professional how often you should do it. If you have problems with your blood pressure, they may recommend you take it every day for a week to build up a picture, then drop down to once every 1-2 weeks, for example. If your blood pressure’s stable and you don’t have any issues, though, you may only need to check it once every few months.

How to check your blood pressure without a machine

“Although there are apps that promise to check your blood pressure without using equipment, this isn’t an accurate or reliable method,” says Dr Ann. Apps can help you input and track your blood pressure over time, but there aren’t any that can safely or accurately measure it.

Home remedies for high blood pressure

Don’t panic if your blood pressure is a little high. You and your doctor can come up with a treatment plan to monitor and tackle it. They may recommend regularly measuring your

blood pressure
at home, plus medication and/or a number of healthy lifestyle tweaks, including:

  • being more active –
    exercises to lower blood pressure
    can help you live a long and healthy life
  • reducing the amount of salt you eat
  • lowering your stress levels – and the amount of alcohol you drink
  • quitting smoking and other smoking products like vapes
  • losing weight, if you need to, and keeping it off
  • reducing your caffeine intake

Always see your doctor if your blood pressure is consistently or repeatedly higher than 120/80 or you have any questions or concerns.

See a doctor as an emergency if:

  • your blood pressure is 180/120 or higher
  • your blood pressure is high and you develop blurred vision, chest pain, breathing difficulties, leg swelling or you feel confused.
  • your blood pressure is lower than 90/60 and you feel unwell or dizzy or faint

Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.