For people with borderline or high blood pressure, home testing with the best blood pressure monitor is more important than ever. Recent research shows that an average of several readings over time provides the most reliable measurement. Home testing is essential for taking multiple readings and can actually be more accurate than the results you get at a doctor's office.
Our experts say that good candidates for at-home monitoring include:
Seniors, whose blood pressure can vary.
People who experience "white-coat hypertension," a spike in blood pressure when they are tested in a doctor's office or hospital; and
People with diabetes, for whom tight blood pressure control is important.
How we tested
Our most recent tests (see Ratings, available to subscribers) of blood pressure monitors found many that are worth recommending.
Staff members assessed each model for comfort. Our testers compared the readings from those devices with readings taken with a mercury sphygmomanometer, often used in medical settings, to rate accuracy. A sensory panel evaluated how easy it was to use each monitor.
Check the fit
For arm models, make sure the blood pressure monitor you choose has a cuff that fits the circumference of your upper arm. Using a cuff that's the wrong size can result in a bad reading. Most models we tested have two cuffs or a cuff that adjusts to fit most peoplee. Wrist models also adjust to fit most people. .
An irregular-heartbeat detector checks for arrhythmias and other abnormalities. (We did not test those features.) A risk-category indicator tells you whether your blood pressure is in the high range. Multiple-user memory allows two or more users to save readings.
The recommended models in the Ratings (both are available to subscribers) were priced from $30 to $130, but shop around. And check to see whether a monitor is covered by insurance.
Ease of use
Make sure that the display on the monitor is easy to read and understand and that the buttons are big enough. The directions for applying the cuff and operating the monitor should be clear.
How to choose
Pick a top-scoring model that has features that will make testing easier for you, such as the ability of more than one user to store readings. Blood pressure monitors may be available at a discount, and some insurance plans may provide coverage for them. Check with your provider.
All of our recommended models (available to subscribers) were rated Excellent for accuracy.
Automatic arm monitors
This type automatically inflates the cuff and displays the readings.
These convenient monitors are fully automatic, but may be less accurate than arm monitors.
Manual arm monitors
These devices are inflated by squeezing a bulb.
What's high blood pressure?
Blood pressure is measured as two numbers, one over the other--for example, 120 over 80 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). The systolic, or top, number reflects the pressure in the arteries when the heart is pumping. The diastolic, or bottom, number reflects the pressure between heartbeats. An elevation in either or both of those numbers constitutes hypertension. Optimal blood pressure is a systolic of less than 120 mm Hg and a diastolic of less than 80 mm Hg. Borderline high blood pressure is a systolic of 120 to 139 mm Hg and a diastolic of 80 to 89 mm Hg. And hypertension is a systolic of 140 or more mm Hg and a diastolic of 90 or more mm HG.