A person has their blood pressure checked.

It seems like getting your blood pressure levels checked at the doctor's office should be pretty simple. After all, healthcare professionals should have plenty of practice measuring patients' BP. 

Yet research suggests that almost one-third of readings done in doctors' offices are inaccurate. That's partly because of "white coat" hypertension, where your blood pressure is normal at home but spikes at the doctor's office, perhaps because of anxiety. ("Masked hypertension," which is when your blood pressure is normal in the doctor’s office but elevated at home, can also occur.)

Or your physician or nurse simply may not take your blood pressure correctly, says Nieca Goldberg, M.D., a cardiologist and director of the Joan H. Tisch Center for Women’s Health at the NYU Langone Medical Center.

Some simple steps can help you make sure that it's measured properly, both at the doctor's office and, if you self-monitor, at home. Here's what to know.

At the Doctor's Office

Double-check your drugs. Certain medications, such as over-the-counter decongestants, amphetamines, and the steroid prednisone, can increase blood pressure. So make sure your physician knows all of the drugs you take

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Dress for success. Wear short sleeves or a top with sleeves that can be easily rolled up. (Also, ask your doctor to check the cuff size before he or she takes the measurement.) Blood pressure readings taken over clothing or with too small a cuff can hike the measurement by as much as 50 points.

Go to the bathroom first. A full bladder can raise blood pressure by as much as 15 points systolic (the top number) and 10 points diastolic (the bottom number). 

Sit correctly. Your back should be straight and supported, with you seated on a chair rather than, say, on the examining table. Your feet should be flat on the floor, with your legs uncrossed. Your arm should be supported on a flat surface (such as a table) with the upper arm at heart level. 

Relax beforehand. Your doctor should have you sit quietly with your feet on the floor, for 5 minutes prior to measuring your blood pressure. The American Heart Association (AHA) also recommends abstaining from coffee, cigarettes, and exercise for 30 minutes before the test. 

Remain quiet during the process. Talking can raise your blood pressure by up to 10 points on either the top or bottom number. 

Know you may need to be measured twice. If your blood pressure reading is high, your doctor or nurse might measure your pressure again at the end of the exam, when you’re usually more relaxed, Goldberg says. The lower reading is usually more accurate. 

At Home

Know whether you need to monitor your BP at home. According to the AHA, people who should consider using a home blood pressure monitor include:

  • People diagnosed with hypertension, including those on BP lowering meds, who need to know how the drugs are working.

  • Pregnant people experiencing pregnancy-induced hypertension.

  • People suspected of having white coat or masked hypertension.

Prepare correctly. Take all of the same steps as you would at the doctor’s office (those listed above) when getting ready to measure your blood pressure at home. Try to check it at the same time each day.

Use an accurate device. Before you use your blood pressure monitor, bring it to your doctor’s office so that he or she can make sure the device is working properly. The AHA recommends having your monitor checked once a year.

Consumer Reports tests home blood pressure monitors for accuracy, comfort, and ease of use. In general, our tests have found that devices that use an upper-arm cuff tend to be more accurate than those that use a wrist cuff. Before you buy, measure the circumference of your upper arm, and pick a product that has a cuff size that fits your arm.

Here are a few of our top-rated blood pressure monitors.

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Omron Evolv BP7000

Price: $80

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