To achieve an accurate blood pressure reading, avoid eating or drinking anything except for water 30 minutes prior to checking your blood pressure. Hypertension, or high blood pressure, affects over 31 percent of Americans, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The National Institutes of Health writes, "Many patients with hypertension find it easier to adhere to medications when they monitor their own blood pressure using made-for-home devices." If you monitor your blood pressure at home, it is important to be aware of issues that may temporarily affect your blood pressure readings. Also, be certain to have your blood pressure monitored regularly by your physician.
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Food and Blood Pressure
Eating or drinking before taking a blood pressure reading can raise or lower your blood pressure drastically. Products high in carbohydrates or sodium will affect your blood pressure, as will foods or drinks containing caffeine or alcohol. According to Harvard Medical School, the digestion process alone can cause your heart rate to increase and your blood vessels to constrict. The elderly are especially susceptible to food-related variations in blood pressure. Elderly patients who eat and then stand suddenly may experience a drop in blood pressure, become dizzy and fall. In "Practice of Geriatrics," Dr. Edmund H. Duthie writes that for geriatric patients "smaller and more frequent meals with less carbohydrate and more protein should be considered."
Why Blood Pressure Readings Vary
Your blood pressure will vary naturally throughout the day. Not only eating, but also stress, exercise, smoking and the time of day can all affect blood pressure. Blood pressure readings can vary so frequently that the Harvard Medical School suggests that checking your blood pressure at home may provide a more accurate reading than that provided by your doctor's office. This is especially true if you suffer from "white coat syndrome," a condition where patients experience higher blood pressure readings in a clinical environment.
Taking Accurate Measurements
Because your blood pressure varies naturally, the best way to obtain an accurate measurement is to average two or three readings taken at different times throughout the day. Try to measure your blood pressure about the same times each day. Keep a diary of all your readings. Make certain that the cuff on your device fits properly. Do not eat 30 minutes prior to taking your reading. Do not drink caffeine, smoke or exercise 30 minutes prior to taking your reading. Sit still while the device is measuring your blood pressure, keeping your arm at heart level. If your reading is high, wait a few minutes and try again, or try a different arm. If your pressure is consistently high, see your physician as soon as possible. High blood pressure can lead to stroke, heart disease or other serious ailments.
Healthy Blood Pressure Numbers
Hypertension often has no symptoms. About 22 percent of Americans who have high blood pressure do not even know it, according to the CDC. In the U.S., the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute establishes blood pressure guidelines. As of publication, your blood pressure is considered normal if your systolic pressure, or top number, is below 120 and your diastolic pressure, or bottom number, is less than 80.
REFERENCES & RESOURCES
- Harvard Medical School: Harvard Heart Letter
- "Practice of Geriatrics"; Edmund H. Duthie Jr., M.D., et al.; 2007
- Harvard Medical School: The Best Way to Check Your Blood Pressure at Home
- NHLBI: Hypertension Guidelines
- American Heart Association: Blood Pressure Monitoring Video