Having your blood pressure checked by a health care provider is an essential part of routine health care. That’s because high blood pressure is a common and silent killer. Untreated high blood pressure can lead to heart attack, stroke and kidney failure. In the United States, high blood pressure is responsible for one out of every six deaths. Having your blood pressure checked by a medical professional is the only way to find out you have this deadly condition.
If it is confirmed that you do have high blood pressure – one in every three Americans and one in every five Canadians does – or are deemed to be at risk, you should follow the American Heart Association’s (AHA) recommendation to regularly monitor your blood pressure at home.
Importance of home monitoring
Home monitoring can help establish a high blood pressure treatment program that is appropriate for you. For example, it can help determine whether or not your high blood pressure can be controlled through a low-sodium diet such as the DASH Diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension). If you have been prescribed medication, home monitoring can assist your health care provider in determining if the dosage or the particular medication you are taking needs to be adjusted or changed.
Home monitoring may even determine that you do not have high blood pressure, although it appeared otherwise at the doctor’s office. Blood pressure readings can vary throughout the day. For example, consumption of coffee or high-in-caffeine energy drinks, certain medications and even, sometimes, weather can make blood pressure temporarily rise. Emotions can also lead to temporarily high readings. For example, some people experience anxiety when they visit a health care provider’s office. This condition – “white-coat hypertension” – can cause blood pressure to temporarily spike. Other people have “masked hypertension:” normal blood pressure readings when they are checked professionally and elevated readings at home.
False readings can lead to over-diagnosis and misdiagnosis of high blood pressure. Home monitoring can help determine the accuracy of blood pressure readings. It can also cut your health care costs as it may reduce how often you have to take time off from work to have your blood pressure checked. This can be particularly important to Laborers, who may not accrue sick leave.
Blood pressure monitors can be purchased at most drug stores and over the Internet. There are two types:
- Manual devices: Manual blood pressure monitors use a stethoscope and an inflatable arm cuff connected by a rubber tube to a gauge that records the pressure.
- Digital devices: Digital monitors have a cuff and a pressure recording gauge. The cuff automatically inflates at the touch of a button. These devices automatically calculate heart rate and check your blood pressure by measuring the changes in the motion of your artery as the blood flows through the artery while the cuff deflates.
Prices for blood pressure monitors vary. Some provide more options than others such as the ability to create electronic printouts. Talk to your health care provider about the blood pressure monitor that is best for you before you make your purchase. Also, make sure you know how to use the one you buy. Read the instructions, practice and bring the device to your health care provider for assistance if you have questions.
For more information on high blood pressure, order the Fund’s High Blood Pressure Health Alert or its Laborers’ Health & Wellness brochures through the online Publications Catalogue.
Next month, a recap of what you can do to reduce your risk for developing high blood pressure and, if you have high blood pressure, what you can do to help keep it under control.
[Janet Lubman Rathner]