Dear Savvy Senior: I just found out I have Stage 1 hypertension, and my doctor recommended I get a home blood pressure monitor to keep an eye on it. Can you offer me any tips on choosing a good one? — Hypertensive Helen
Dear Helen: It’s a smart idea! Everyone with elevated or high blood pressure (Stage 1 and higher) should consider getting a home blood pressure monitor.
Home monitoring can help you keep tabs on your blood pressure in a comfortable setting. If you’re taking medication, it will help you know that it’s working, and alert you to a health problem if it arises. Here are some tips to help you choose a good monitor.
Types of monitors
The two most popular types of home blood pressure monitors are electric- or battery-powered automatic arm monitors and automatic wrist monitors.
An automatic arm monitor involves wrapping the cuff around your biceps, and with the push of one button, the cuff inflates and deflates automatically. In a matter of seconds, it provides your blood pressure reading on a display window.
Wrist monitors work similarly on the wrist. These are smaller in weight and size, which makes them more easily portable. While they’re a bit more comfortable to use, they tend to be a little less accurate.
To help you choose the best monitor for you, consider these factors:
>> Fit: Be sure the cuff fits the circumference of your upper arm. Using a cuff that’s the wrong size can result in an inaccurate reading. Most arm models have two sizes or an adjustable cuff that fits most people. Wrist models also fit most people.
>> Ease of use: Be sure the display on the monitor is easy to read and that the buttons are large. The directions for applying the cuff and operating the monitor should be clear.
>> Extra features: Many automatic monitors come with additional features. These can include detection of arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) and other abnormalities; an indicator that flags when your blood pressure is high; data-averaging that allows you to take multiple readings and get an overall average; multiple-user memory that allows two or more users to save their readings; and downloadable memory that lets you transmit data to a computer or smartphone.
Where to buy
You can find blood pressure monitors at pharmacies, medical supply stores or online, and you don’t need a prescription to buy one. Prices typically range between $40 and $100.
In most cases original Medicare will not cover a home blood pressure monitor, but if you have a Medicare Advantage plan or a private health insurance policy, check into coverage.
Consumer Reports’ recommendations for automatic arm monitors include the Omron Platinum BP5450 ($75), Omron Silver BP5250 ($50) and Omron 10 Series BP7450 ($100); A&D Medical UA767F ($45); and Rite Aid Deluxe Automatic BP3AR1-4DRITE ($37).
Top wrist monitors: Omron 7 Series BP6350 ($80) and Equate (Walmart) 4500 Series ($40).
After buying a monitor, it’s a good idea to take it to your doctor’s office to check for accuracy and learn the proper techniques for how to use it and when.
You can also get detailed information on how to accurately measure your blood pressure at home at Heart.org/HBP — click on “Learn How to Monitor Your Blood Pressure at Home.”
Jim Miller is a contributor to NBC-TV’s “Today” program and author of “The Savvy Senior.” Send your questions to Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070; or visit savvysenior.org.