Dossier: Healthy heart

Hypertension: Taking blood pressure correctly

If you’re age 18 or over, the Swiss Heart Foundation recommends that you measure your blood pressure at least once a year. Isabella Sudano, cardiologist and senior consultant at Zurich University Hospital and president of the Swiss Society of Hypertension, explains how to measure it correctly at home.

Text: Helwi Braunmiller; photo: Unsplash

There are various devices available on the market today for measuring your blood pressure at home – either for your upper arm or wrist. “If you take the measurement on your upper arm, it is automatically at heart level, which is why most doctors prefer these devices, but that doesn’t mean that wrist devices are substandard”, says cardiologist Isabella Sudano. When using a wrist device, you simply have to make sure that your wrist is level with your heart. In fact, most devices aren’t suitable if you have cardiac arrhythmia – measurements are simply inaccurate in this case. When buying a blood pressure monitor, make sure that the device is validated.

Measuring your blood pressure: how it works

  1. Ideally you should measure your blood pressure in the morning immediately on waking and before you eat breakfast or take medication. Sit still for at least five minutes before taking the measurement, because you want to measure your resting pulse rate.
  2. Take a second measurement two minutes later. The first measurement will always be higher, and that’s normal.
  3. Fasten the cuff of your blood pressure monitor as snugly as possible around your naked upper arm approximately 1-2 cm above the elbow. If you’ve rolled your sleeve up, make sure it’s not digging in. With upper arm devices, place your arm loosely and slightly bent with the palm facing upwards on the chair’s armrest or on a table. With wrist devices, use cushions to raise your wrist to heart level.
  4. When taking the measurement, don’t move, talk or touch the device.
  5. When taking the measurement for the very first time, do so on both arms. Next time, only take the measurement on the arm with the higher values. Read off the values and write them down somewhere. You should also note down anything unusual or any problems that may be connected to your blood pressure.

Important points

  • For measurements at home, different, slightly lower limit values apply than when you’re at the doctor’s: Values below 135/85 are normal at home, while they’re always slightly higher in hospitals or doctor’s surgeries.
  • If you smoke, wait at least 30 minutes after your last cigarette before you take your blood pressure.
  • Don’t watch television or talk before or during the measurement, because this can increase your blood pressure.

The Schweizerische Herzstiftung (Swiss Heart Foundation) is also a good source of information.