In this age of obvious health risks and problems, the issue of high blood pressure (and low blood pressure), are silent factors that affect a third of Americans today. High blood pressure is a leading cause of debilitating strokes and deadly heart attacks and is surprisingly responsible for more deaths than diabetes, obesity, and smoking. Simply put, being heart healthy matters more than we realize or acknowledge.
If you have received a recent diagnosis that you’ve got high blood pressure or tipping the level almost to that point, then it is important to make some life changes now. Rather than making a new appointment at your doctor’s office or at a hospital as an outpatient being seen on a semi-regular basis, being able to use your own blood pressure monitor from home, on the road or at the office is a convenient solution. Rather than being products that are heavy and non-portable, the latest blood pressure monitors are small, not overly bulky and reasonably portable too.
Blood pressure goes up with each beat of the heart and then reduces as the heart takes a rest between beats. Rather than being constant, blood pressure responds to medication, emotional changes, sleep, diet, posture, and exercise. For these reasons, it is preferable to take multiple blood pressure readings over time rather than being put on the spot with a reading taken during a short doctor’s appointment which is nerve racking, sometimes creating an elevated reading.
A pressure monitor is helpful for:
- Patients with high blood pressure and seeing how their body is responding to the prescribed medicine
- Close monitoring between doctor’s visits due to diagnosed diabetes, coronary heart disease, or kidney disease
- People with higher than expected readings when tested who wish to test themselves independently
- Pregnant women with either hypertension from pregnancy or preeclampsia
In this guide, we look at the types of blood pressure monitor products, the factors to consider, what features are commonplace, the brands producing this product, and any issues that consumers regularly find surprising or relevant.
Types of Blood Pressure Monitors
The American Heart Association have previously stated that arm-based blood pressure monitors are the most accurate. Indeed, some American insurers do not trust pressure readings when taken using either a wrist or fingertip blood pressure monitor and require a careful reading taken from either a Sphygmomanometer or arm blood pressure monitor.
The main reason that wrist and fingertip monitors are less accurate is due to their distance from the reading location and the heart, and the algorithms used by monitor manufacturers to produce the readings.
Blood pressure monitors are available in either a wrist or arm cuff, or fingertip versions. There are also differences between brands, models within a brand’s range, performance, features, appearance, compactness, and price. Below we run through the types available.
Arm monitors are ones where the cuff wraps around the upper arm, the cuff inflates gradually, a reading is then taken, and displayed on the electronic screen.
Depending on the model, along with the actual readings, there may be categories shown indicating risk factor levels for different readings. The inclusion of these additional indicators is useful for someone with a minimal understanding of blood flow pressure levels.
Some of the more advanced monitors can either connect wireless with other computing devices via Bluetooth or upload the data to the cloud where it can be shared with a third party, like a medical practitioner.
Pros: A few monitors support multiple users through features that record data for each person separately. For households or businesses that wish to monitor more than one person’s blood pressure, these make more sense.
Cons: Arm monitors are tricky to fit correctly. Too tight (or too loose) and the readings won’t be reliable. Using a different fitting with each reading will also produce unreliable results.
Wrist monitors are designed to be pretty hands-off with settings that are automated. Nonetheless, readings tend to be less accurate than when an arm monitor is consistently, correctly fitted to produce a series of accurate readings.
Pros: Lightweight, compact and easy to take to the office or on a trip.
Cons: The body position is the most important factor when taking a reading using a wrist monitor. Place the cuff at the heart level each time to get a clearer, consistent result. Changing the body position with each reading will produce adverse, unreliable results.
Fingertip monitors as one might imagine slip over a finger and take a blood pressure reading in this manner.
Pros: Fewer issues with whether the monitor will fit the patient or not.
Cons: The least accurate of the three types of blood pressure monitors.
Health-related apps are becoming ever more popular with consumers despite the questionable results they spit out. In the case of taking an accurate blood pressure reading, a health app should not be used. However, data sharing using readings taken using a blood pressure monitor is sometimes possible.
Factors to Consider When Purchasing a Blood Pressure Monitor
There are a few factors to look at when considering purchasing a blood pressure monitor. Here we run through a few specifics.
Ease of Use
A monitor needs to be easy to use. If the buttons are too finickity or the screen text too small to read, then it won’t be simple to use.
Get Only What You Need
Blood pressure monitors offer a broad range of features depending on the make and model. Some of these include a risk indicator, irregular heartbeat indicator, data download, memory function, larger displays, and more. It’s easy to get caught up in all that and buy more monitor than you require. Consider what you need and go from there.
Most monitors operate using four AA batteries. Only a few models include an AC adapter or have an electrical port supporting an AC adapter.
Get the Right Fit
With wrist or fingertip monitors, the fit is a non-issue. For more popular arm monitors, the key factor is getting the right size. People often purchase an arm monitor that’s too small for them when they mistakenly believe the monitor’s cuff will strap around their lower arm. The upper arm is used to fit the blood monitor strap around it, which is wider than the lower arm. Many monitors have adjustable straps or offer multiple size choices for consumers to pick the most suitable size for them.
Get Accurate Readings
As a general guide (we’re not doctors), an optimal blood pressure is below 120 millimeters of mercury (mmHg) systolic, and below 80 mmHg for lower diastolic. The distinction is the higher number represents the rating when the heart pumps and the bottom number is the rating between heat beats.
For people under 60, readings above 140/90 should trigger seeking medical advice. For older people, a reading of 150/90 indicates getting checked by a medical professional is a good idea. With that said, heart rate levels do vary, and there is no substitute for consulting with a trained medical professional should you have any doubts whatsoever.
To get an accurate reading, take the following steps:
- First, take a bathroom break
- Avoid caffeinated drinks for an hour or more before a reading, and preferably longer
- Do not exercise or smoke in the hours leading up to a reading
- Take a few minutes to relax first. Sit down, uncross your legs, place your feet comfortably on the floor and use the back support on the chair or sofa to encourage relaxation.
- Roll up your sleeve so the monitor cuff will wrap around your upper arm. Place your arm on a table to ensure your cuff is roughly at the same level as your heart
- Keep calm during the testing phase
- Test your pressure levels at the same time each reading to get an accurate baseline reading and subsequent follow-up readings
More advanced monitors can transfer pressure readings to a computer or another mobile device. This is usually achieved over wireless Bluetooth, but a few monitors also use a USB network cable. The readings are received and then may be shared online or emailed to a friend, the human resources department at your employer, or your family doctor’s office.
While the use of health apps that attempt to read your heart rate only using your smartphone aren’t accurate enough for serious medical purposes, some companies that produce monitors do offer mobile apps for iOS and Android. These apps are useful for receiving multiple readings and making it easy to access this information in the doctor’s office and elsewhere when it is needed. These apps are quite handy, rather than merely being a gimmick.
Features of Blood Pressure Monitors
There are some exciting new features with the latest line of blood pressure monitors. Despite this product category being dominated by only a few players, innovation is still occurring. Here are a few of the features to pay attention to.
Risk Category Indicator
The risk category indicator is a useful feature that visually lets the person know when their reading is a cause for concern. The risk category indicator is most useful for individuals who don’t have confidence in their ability to understand the higher and lower heart beat readings from a blood pressure monitor.
Anyone with an irregular heartbeat will benefit from this feature which can detect this problem and alert them to the issue. From there, they can see their local doctor to get a professional reading, confirm the findings, and see what can be done about it.
There are several different cuff type fittings used with an arm monitor. On lower priced models, the D-Ring is often used, but with higher-end models, a more comfortable, stretchable wrap around fitting is used. In either case, with a flexible size fitting, the cuff type often fits an arm with a 9-inch to 17-inch in circumference. With other products, they’re sold in single arm sizes. Be sure to choose the right fit for you.
Two User Mode
Depending on the requirements, buying a two user or multi-user monitor is useful. Keep two sets of patient heart rate readings in the same device and avoid needing to buy two different products. Some units have a manual switch to easily change between users. Two user mode also has a bearing on memory storage requirements.
The number of readings that a device keeps in storage ranges from two weeks of daily readings, right up to 100-200 individual readings. The need to keep accurate short, medium or long-term records of blood pressure levels and how long or frequently one needs to use a monitor helps determine how much memory storage is required. Memory storage also has a bearing on communications.
Most blood pressure monitors offer Bluetooth connectivity to a PC, Mac, smartphone or tablet mobile device. Failing that, a connection via USB cable is occasionally possible. One option is to transfer or offload readings from a monitor to the computer or mobile device to erase the data storage avoiding losing past readings as they accumulate with time. One popular way to do this is via an iOS or Android apps which some manufacturers offer.
A few leading manufacturers have their own range of iOS and Android mobile apps. These apps receive blood pressure monitor readings via Bluetooth from their branded devices, store the information and organize it for you in various ways. Unlike with the limited storage capacity of the monitors themselves, a smartphone or tablet can store a greater number of pressure readings for you.
The mobile apps often can display the average of several recent blood pressure readings. The approach of using averages is sometimes preferable to mitigate bad readings and occasional blips in the reading levels received.
Other than with alarmingly high single readings where a medical physician needs to be consulted, slightly elevated blood pressure readings when smoothed out over several days using an average pressure reading takes a balanced view to not cause undue concern.
Battery Support/AC Adapter
Blood pressure monitors usually require 4 AA batteries to operate (sometimes included, sometimes not). Some products also support an AC adapter connection slot. Only certain models come supplied with AC adapters.
Indicator lights are often fitted to monitors offering a visual clue with the latest reading. Green is usually a good reading and orange indicates hypertension. Remember to consult the product’s manual to verify what each color means.
BP Level Bar
A simple blood pressure level bar chart indicator is shown on the display screen. On more advanced models, this is a better indicator than the indicator lights mentioned above.
Large Digit Display
The size and clarity of the screen are useful for people who find viewing little characters difficult. The larger the digits shown in the display and the brighter the illumination, the easier it is to see. A backlit display is a useful extra feature to look for with display units as not all blood pressure readings are taken in the afternoon.
Best Blood Pressure Monitor Brands
There are not many brands that compete in the blood pressure monitor space. Here we give a little background to the major names.
The big giant in blood pressure monitors is Omron. Their product range is extensive with prices that run the gamut from inexpensive to premium plus. Their best models feature irregular-heartbeat indicators, AC adapters, and Bluetooth connectivity for their Omron Health mobile apps.
Greater Goods is all about the responsible sourcing of product materials, charitable giving with a portion of their annual profits, and providing a “six-star service.” Their product range includes blood pressure monitors, breakfast nourishment, and their single coffee serving produced in a sustainable way.
Panasonic is a large producer of electronic goods of every description. It is no surprise that they also offer several blood pressure monitors too.
Gurin Products focus on producing goods to improve lifestyles. The company has two brands, Gurin and Santamedical. Their blood pressure monitor range is inclusive with full Aneroid sphygmomanometer and a stethoscope, and a fingertip pressure reader too. They also have several other products that maintain their focus on promoting healthy, active living to customers.
Ozeri is a brand that offers lifestyle products for the home, the bathroom, the kitchen, and for improved health and fitness. Their blood pressure indicator packs in many features that compete with other better-known brands admirably.
What Consumers Say
Lack of USB port
Not every blood pressure device naturally has a micro USB port. Most devices rely on Bluetooth wireless communication, if they have any communication features at all. Don’t assume data is easily transferred to a PC or Mac via USB, Thunderbolt or FireWire cable connections.
Health App Compatibility
There is some ability within the monitor industry to make data accessible by health apps. The Apple Health (HealthKit) iOS app is often the one that monitor makers try to be compatible with. Android is less well supported for interoperability of data. The area is still a work in progress.
Use of the Cloud
A few monitor providers use cloud computing to upload health data to make it easier to access.
Some manufacturers sell separate larger cuffs for people who discover they’ve bought an arm monitor model with cuffs that weren’t large enough for their arms.