How to Check High Blood Pressure: A Step-by-Step Guide

Chad Birt

Written by Chad Birt on Mon Jul 31 2023.

Woman checking man's blood pressure.

High blood pressure is one of the most common health problems, affecting up to 47% of adults. If you or your loved one have high blood pressure, your doctor might have asked you to keep tabs on it at home. But how do you do that?

This guide covers everything you need to know, including the equipment you’ll need and how to get the most accurate results. 

What You’ll Need

All you need to check your blood pressure at home is a home blood pressure cuff and a stethoscope. Blood pressure cuffs aren’t expensive and provide accurate results.

“I prefer a blood pressure cuff that goes on the upper arm - not the wrist. The wrist ones just aren’t very reliable,” said Dr. Janet O’Mahony, an internist at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland.

 “It’s important to find a cuff that fits the upper arm properly. There are ‘adult’ sized cuffs and ‘large adult’ sized cuffs. If you have skinny upper arms, you can buy an ‘adult’ sized cuff, but most of my patients require the ‘large adult’ size.”

Fit is very important. If your cuff is too small or too large, it can provide inaccurate results.

Steps to Checking High Blood Pressure at Home

Step 1: Find and Buy a Home Blood Pressure Cuff

Before you can take your or your loved one’s blood pressure at home, you need a blood pressure cuff. Here at Carewell, we carry several home blood pressure cuffs from brands like McKesson and A&D Medical.

McKesson Blood Pressure Cuff

This manual nylon blood pressure cuff has a black enamel manometer and a 5-year calibration warranty. It wraps around the upper arm and comes with a zippered carrying case.

Hear it from a caregiver

“This blood pressure cuff is great for small, medium, and large adults. The cuff is easy to use and the results are easy to read.”

- Sallie M.

A&D Medical Pro Blood Pressure Monitor

This digital blood pressure cuff has enough memory to store up to 90 blood pressure readings. It has a clock display with a time and date stamp, so you can easily track your blood pressure and watch for trends.

McKesson Blood Pressure Cuff
McKesson Blood Pressure Cuff

Price: $19.72 - $23.01

Step 2: Understand How to Interpret Your Blood Pressure Reading

Blood pressure readings have two numbers and look something like this: 120/80 (mm/Hg).

“A normal blood pressure reading is one where the systolic (top number) is less than 120 mm/ Hg over a diastolic (bottom number) less than 80 mm/Hg,” said Carlin Longley, RN BSN, a registered nurse who specializes in chronic care management. “The systolic reading represents the force of pressure when the heart pumps and the bottom number represents the force of the pressure when the heart relaxes.” 

Blood pressure falls into several categories, including:

  • Normal (Less than 120/80 mm/Hg)

  • Elevated (120-129 and less than 80)

  • High blood pressure or hypertension stage 1 (130-139 or 80-89)

  • Hypertension stage 2 (140 or higher or 90 or higher)

  • Hypertensive crisis (Higher than 180 and/or higher than 120)

“Think of high blood pressure like the water pressure in your house,” Longley said. “When the water pressure is too high, pipes can break and built-up debris can be kicked loose causing additional problems further down the line.”

“Similarly, when blood pressure is too high, organs can become damaged, the heart has an increased workload, and plaque build up on arterial walls can come loose, increasing the likelihood of a stroke.”

Talk to your doctor if you have questions. They can explain your recommended blood pressure range. 

Caregiver Tip

After you buy a cuff, Dr. O’Mahoney recommends bringing it to your next doctor’s appointment. “If the blood pressure in the office on the doctor’s machine is similar to the reading on your home machine, you can trust the home readings will be accurate.”

Step 3: Prepare to Take Your Blood Pressure

Once you have a home blood pressure cuff and know how to interpret your blood pressure readings, try taking your blood pressure.

Get your blood pressure cuff, stethoscope, and something to record your readings in, like a notebook. 

Avoid drinking caffeine, exercising, or smoking for at least 30 minutes before you take any measurements, as these activities can affect the accuracy of your readings. Empty your bladder before you sit down.

Step 4: Get Into the Proper Position

Sit down on a chair with a straight back and put your feet flat on the ground. Don’t sit on a recliner or couch, as the squishy surface might affect the accuracy of your blood pressure reading. 

Wrap the cuff around your arm, directly above the bend in your elbow. Make sure the cuff is tight, but not too tight. You should be able to easily slide two fingers beneath it. Then, place your arm on a flat surface in front of you, like a table or kitchen counter.

Step 5: Position the Stethoscope

Place the stethoscope disc facedown and slide it under the blood pressure cuff so it’s in the bend of your elbow. 

Then, put the stethoscope earpieces in your ears and position the blood pressure gauge or digital monitor so you can easily read it. 

Step 6: Take Your Blood Pressure

To do this, squeeze the blood pressure pump rapidly until the gauge is 30 points above your normal systolic blood pressure. 

Stop squeezing and turn the knob on the pump to let the air out slowly. 

Watch the pressure on the gauge or digital monitor drop two millimeters while listening to your heart. 

After you hear the first heartbeat, write that number down –– this is your systolic blood pressure. 

Next, write down the number you see when you no longer hear a heartbeat –– this is your diastolic pressure.

Note: These instructions are for a manual blood pressure reading. If you have an electronic machine, it will likely take these measurements for you and store them in a memory bank.

7) Take Multiple Readings

Wait for two or three minutes and then take your blood pressure again. Again, write down the results so you have a record of daily readings.

8) Monitor Your Blood Pressure At Different Times of the Day

Once you get the hang of taking your blood pressure, try taking it at different times. Doing so can provide key insights into your health and help you assess how medications or lifestyle changes are working.

“Morning blood pressure readings are typically higher than evening blood pressure readings, so you will want to take readings at different times of day,” Dr. O’Mahony said. 

“Don’t freak out if your blood pressure reading is a little bit high from time to time. We are looking at averages and your blood pressure does bounce around a lot. So one reading shouldn’t alarm you if it comes back down the next time.”

How to Check High Blood Pressure - Commonly Asked Questions

1) Should I be worried if I have really high blood pressure?

Everyone’s blood pressure fluctuates throughout the day. But certain numbers indicate a serious medical issue.

“Really high readings (170 over 100 or above) should prompt a call or visit to the doctor’s office,” said Dr. O’Mahony. “Blood pressure alone is almost never a reason to go to the ER, but if it’s accompanied by chest pain, severe headache, or stroke like symptoms, it requires emergency evaluation.”

2) Why should someone check their blood pressure at home?

You might benefit from checking your blood pressure at home if you get nervous when visiting the doctor. Often, anxiety causes higher-than-average readings, a phenomenon called ‘white coat hypertension’. 

Dr. O’Mahony says that you might also benefit from home blood pressure readings if you take blood pressure medication. A blood pressure monitor makes it easy to ensure your medication is working in between doctor visits.

3) What can I do to increase the accuracy of my blood pressure readings?

The easiest way to improve the accuracy of your blood pressure readings is to be calm and sit very still. Any movement, coughing, or talking can impact your blood pressure levels and result in inaccurate readings. 

Need Help Choosing a Home Blood Pressure Monitor?

Our friendly Care Specialists are standing by and ready to help. We carry several types of home blood pressure monitors and will be happy to make recommendations that align with your budget and needs. Simply call (800) 696-CARE or send an email to support@carewell.com.

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Chad Birt
Chad Birt

Chad Birt is a freelance medical writer who resides in Astoria, Oregon. When he isn't behind a keyboard, you can find him hiking, camping, or birdwatching with his wife Ella and their two dogs, Diane and Thoreau.