Health screenings are an important part of healthier aging. Of all the possible medical exams your doctor may recommend, one of the most important is the blood pressure test.
High blood pressure is sometimes called a “silent killer.” It often has no warning signs or symptoms, which means many people don’t even know they have it. And this can be dangerous because having untreated high blood pressure increases your risk for stroke and heart disease—two of the leading causes of death in the United States.
That’s why regular blood pressure screenings—whether done in your doctor’s office, at home, or with an automated machine at the pharmacy—are so important. If you have high blood pressure, the U.S. Preventative Task Force recommends you have your blood pressure monitored at least once each year. Adults over 18 who have a normal blood pressure (lower than 120/80 millimeters of mercury) should be screened for high blood pressure every 2 years.
Blood pressure readings can vary widely, and it can be difficult to ensure a correct measurement. Use the following advice, from kidney and hypertension specialist Dr. Daniel Wilson, Pfizer Global Medical Director, to help you weigh the pros and cons of getting tested in several available locations, as well as to help you get an accurate blood pressure measurement no matter where the screening is performed.
At the Doctor’s Office
Pros: Healthcare professionals are trained to properly measure blood pressure and immediately interpret the results. You’ll also be able to discuss your blood pressure with your doctor and together, decide on a course of action if it is too high.
Cons: Some people may experience stress when they’re in a doctor’s office, which can ramp up their blood pressure. If this happens to you, your doctor may use different criteria to determine whether you’re hypertensive as well as recommend at-home monitoring.
You Should Know: Your healthcare professional should take your blood pressure after a few minutes of rest, not as soon as you walk into the office. You should also avoid caffeine or tobacco before having your blood pressure measured—here or anywhere else.
At a Health Fair
Pros: Screenings at a local firehouse, church or other community location are typically performed by someone trained to measure blood pressure and should provide similar accuracy to those done at the doctor’s office. Just be sure to follow the same pre-testing advice of avoiding caffeine and tobacco.
Cons: The results from a blood pressure exam in a setting such as this will not be automatically relayed to your doctor.
You Should Know: Always record your blood pressure measurement and then discuss the result with your doctor. And if your blood pressure measures higher than 180 over 110, contact your doctor right away because you could be experiencing a more serious condition known as a hypertensive crisis.
At the Pharmacy
Pros: Automated machines found in drugstores, supermarkets and even malls offer convenience and usually offer measurements free of charge.
Cons: There’s no way of knowing how frequently the machines in these places are calibrated. Also, the cuff may not fit you correctly, making it difficult to get an accurate reading.
You Should Know: While there’s little harm in checking your blood pressure while you wait to pick up a prescription, readings taken by these machines should not replace regular screenings with a healthcare professional and you should always discuss your results with your doctor.
Pros: Using an at-home blood pressure monitor is a convenient way to keep tabs on your blood pressure. Plus, if you’re already working on managing high blood pressure with medication and lifestyle changes, regularly checking your blood pressure can help you see if your efforts are working.
Cons: There are some people who might be physically or mentally unable to measure their own blood pressure. Also, your reading will only be accurate if you use a quality device and you use it correctly.
You Should Know: Before monitoring your own blood pressure, be sure to bring your device to your healthcare professional. You want to make sure the reading you get from your doctor is the same as the one you’re getting with your device. Your doctor can also ensure that you’re using the device correctly and that it’s best suited for your needs.
3. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. The seventh report of the joint national committee on prevention, detection, evaluation, and treatment of high blood pressure. Accessed April 24, 2013.
4. U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Screening for high blood pressure: U.S. preventive services task force reaffirmation recommendation statement. Ann Intern Med. 2007 Dec 4; 147(11): 783-786. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-147-11-200712040-00009
5. Mayo Clinic Staff. Get the most out of home blood pressure monitoring. Accessed April 24, 2013.
6. Lucky D, Turner B, Hall M, Lefaver S, de Werk A. Blood pressure screenings through community nursing health fairs: motivating individuals to seek health care follow-up. J Community Health Nurs. 2011; 28(3): 119-129. doi: 10.1080/07370016.2011.588589
After reading this article, how likely are you to discuss the different ways to monitor your blood pressure with your physician?