Simple tips to improve your blood pressure checks

A recent study confirmed that the doctor’s office may be one of the worst places to determine if your blood pressure is under control. The automatic rise in tension many people experience when they are being scrutinized contributes to artificially high blood pressure readings. Although many times the only way improve one’s blood pressure is through treatment (such as medication, a low salt diet, and weight loss), other times I’ve seen a simple 10 second relaxation routine drop a patient’s blood pressure reading by up to 20 systolic points.

The following may help you obtain a better, more accurate reading the next time you have your pressure checked in the harried office.

  1. Insist on being seated for at least 3 minutes before your pressure is taken. Even walking from the waiting room back into an examining room will briefly increase your blood pressure.
  2. Take several deep, relaxed breaths in and out before the doctor begins to check your blood pressure.
  3. Relax all your muscles, particularly focusing on the tightness in your neck and shoulders.

These three easy steps can make a huge difference. Anecdotally as I mentioned before I’ve seen 20 point differences before and after. Evidence supports this, including the most recent study which found:

The proportion of patients whose systolic BP was identified as controlled in the first 30 days varied by measurement type: 28% for clinic readings, 47% for home readings, and 68% for research-based readings

Research-based readings in this study were difficult to define, but it seems they used a more standard, resting technique than the typical fast paced office visit.

Go ahead and try this at home with a BP monitor, and discuss with your doctor. And then relax throughout the day regardless.

“Dr. Charles” is a family physician who blogs at The Examining Room of Dr. Charles.

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  • Anonymous

    I’m a Heart patient & I’ve suffered from high blood pressure for a short while now. Although my BP has been improving, I wil incorporate these excercises you have shared with us with my other Cardio excercises & diet. Honestly, I’m very confident that the tips you’ve given me will help me in bettering my BP as well as my chances of living a lot healthier and longer I
    Thank You Dr K.

  • William Dawson

    I am amazed at the lack of uniformity in technique that STILL occurs. ( I say ‘still’ and i am talking about the 30 years since i learned how to take an accurate B/P. )  To remind all, the pt. should not have her legs crossed, the cuff should be level with the heart, the arterial line on the cuff should line up with the arterry, the clinician should inflate the cuff 20-30 mmHg beyond the last audible heart beat and then release the pressure about 3 points per second.  The usual ‘crank it up to 200′ gives you a false-high reading.  Oh, and the cuff needs to be sized correctly for the limb–that is what the hash marks on the cuff are for. If it doesn’t fit, go get one that does. A too-small cuff gives a too-high reading.

    • Leslie Edwards

      I agree. I can’t tell you how many times I have experienced someone in a doctor’s office who doesn’t take my blood pressure according to the proper standards. It happened enough times that I got alarming numbers that I did my own research into it and ended up buying my own home monitor.

      But they still have to test you in the doctors office. Most recently, I had a medical assistant try to take my reading by wrapping the cuff around the wool sleeve of my sweater as I held my own arm up and having just been seated! I knew enough to discount whatever the reading was.

  • Diane

    I think I’ll print this off and give it to all my doctors, whose nurses insist on checking that BP right away. I have heart failure and by all means I want it the BEST treatment possible, but at the risk of my BP being 80′s/50′s-100′s/60′s at home while they get 130′s/80′s in the office and I’m on the brink of fainting daily??? They just don’t think my readings can possibly be correct!

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