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How to Read Your Blood Pressure Results

October 13, 2023
How to Read Your Blood Pressure Results - Lark Health

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If you have high blood pressure (hypertension), your doctor may have suggested that you measure your blood pressure at home regularly, such as weekly, daily, or more. The readings you get can provide critical information about your blood pressure and heart health, and whether you may need adjustments in your medications, lifestyle, or other parts of your treatment plan. 

Knowing how to read your blood pressure results can help you stay in control of your health, since you are the most critical member of your care team. This is some information about taking blood pressure at home and how you can use the readings to your advantage, especially if you're using Lark for coaching.

Blood Pressure Basics

For as far back as your memory goes, you may remember having your blood pressure taken every time you have gone to the doctor's office. As the cuff inflates and deflates, the nurse is measuring the pressure of your blood against your arteries, or how hard the blood is pressing against them.

Your blood pressure reading shows up as two numbers. The top number is the systolic blood pressure (SBP). It reflects blood pressure when the heart is contracting, and is the higher of the two numbers. The bottom number is the diastolic blood pressure (DBP). It reflects blood pressure when the heart is relaxing, and is the lower of the two numbers. 

Why Monitor at Home?

There are a few reasons why you may be monitoring your blood pressure at home.

  • It can increase accountability and motivation, just as weighing for yourself when trying to lose weight can do.
  • Having so many readings gives you the opportunity to learn your personal patterns and what may affect your blood pressure. Using Lark can increase your understanding as it explains trends and offers insights.
  • Creates a history that you can show your doctor in case treatment or prescriptions need to change. Lark also helps with this as your history is easy to send to your doctor.

Participants in Lark who used a home blood pressure monitor along with Lark's health coaching, on average, experienced a decrease in systolic blood pressure of over 8 mm Hg - that's enough to reduce the risk of a stroke by over 30%!

How to Take Blood Pressure at Home

It is important to follow certain steps to get accurate readings when you measure blood pressure at home. Otherwise, the blood pressure reading you get may be higher or lower than the true value:

  • Sit comfortably for at several minutes before taking your blood pressure.
  • Place the cuff around your arm touching the skin, not over clothes.
  • Have the arm with the cuff resting at chest level on a table.
  • Uncross your legs and have your feet flat on the floor.
  • Be still and do not talk while the machine is measuring your blood pressure.

If you are using Lark and an associated device, your measurement should sync automatically. Otherwise, write down or enter your measurement immediately so you do not forget.

It is best to measure blood pressure after using the restroom and at least 30 minutes after exercising, eating, taking caffeine, drinking alcohol, or using tobacco. 

What Your Value Means

The SBP and DBP you see in your reading can give you an idea of where your blood pressure falls. These are the cutoffs for the categories of normal, prehypertension, and hypertension [3].

Reading Your Blood Pressure Meter

Your blood pressure reading shows up as two numbers, as shown on the meter below. The top number is the systolic blood pressure, and the bottom number is the diastolic blood pressure. This example shows a good blood pressure reading with their diastolic reading being a little higher than "normal".

reading a blood pressure meter

If your blood pressure is in the prehypertensive or hypertensive range, you should work with your healthcare provider about the best ways to manage blood pressure and lower your risk for complications such as stroke or heart attack.

Insights About Your Blood Pressure Results

The result of your blood pressure measurement can determine your next steps. If your blood pressure reading is under 120/80 or is within target levels according to your healthcare provider, that is great news. You might want to think about some things you may have been doing to achieve that good result, such as increasing physical activity levels, limiting sodium intake, or following instructions for taking any blood pressure medications.

If, on the other hand, your blood pressure is a little higher than target, or is in the hypertensive range or has been creeping up, it might be time to think about why that happened. Possible reasons can include having caffeine just before measuring blood pressure, skipping a few workouts, or missing a dose of medication. It is also important to check whether you took your blood pressure properly.

Extreme High or Low Readings

Lark tracks your high blood pressure

There may be times when your blood pressure is extremely high or very low. In some cases, you may need to call your medical provider or take other action. If you do get a high or low reading, Lark will recommend that you wait 5 minutes, then take your blood pressure again to make sure the initial reading was accurate.

A hypertensive crisis is when blood pressure is over 180 systolic or 120 diastolic. Since a sudden increase in blood pressure can lead to organ failure, stroke, or heart attack, immediate medical attention is necessary to evaluate and treat the condition. Treatment may include changing medication protocols or other care.

Hypotension occurs when blood pressure is under 90 systolic or 60 diastolic [4]. The American Heart Association says a single low reading may not be a problem, but it could be problematic, especially if you have symptoms such as feeling dizzy, lightheaded, or nauseous. To be on the safe side, it is always better to call your healthcare provider if you are worried.

Factors That Can Affect a Measurement

Following instructions carefully when measuring your blood pressure is important because so many factors can affect your reading. It can help to know some of the common factors that can affect your blood pressure in case your blood pressure machine gives an unexpected result. The CDC lists some of them [5].

  • Having exercised within the past half-hour may lead to an increased blood pressure reading
  • Caffeine, alcohol, or tobacco use within the past half-hour may increase blood pressure
  • Having a full bladder raises blood pressure
  • Sitting cross-legged or having your arm lower than chest level can raise your reading
  • Having eaten within the past half-hour can cause post-prandial hypotension, or a drop in blood pressure, among some people, with hypertension, diabetes, and older age being risk factors
  • Taking blood pressure with the cuff over the clothes rather than your skin can make your reading lower

If you are ever unsure about whether your blood pressure machine is working properly, you can compare it with one in a medical facility. Call your healthcare provider or a local pharmacy to see if you can check your blood pressure monitor against theirs.

Lowering Blood Pressure with Monitoring and Lark

You have more control than anyone else over your hypertension. The choices you make on a daily basis have a great impact on your blood pressure. Lark is ready to be by your side anytime via your smartphone to help you make good choices.

Many lifestyle choices have been shown to lower blood pressure. These are some of the ones that were addressed in the Lark hypertension study that lowered blood pressure.

  • Losing excess weight if you are overweight or obese
  • Reducing sodium, sugar, and excess saturated fats
  • Increasing fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
  • Increasing physical activity
  • Taking medications as prescribed
  • Monitoring blood pressure at home as your doctor recommends
  • Getting enough sleep

Lark supports these and other behaviors with features such as logging, tracking, reminders, and insights, along with instant, personalized feedback. The goal is to turn small choices into long-lasting habits to control blood pressure.

Understanding your blood pressure and how to read your blood pressure results can help you make good decisions about your lifestyle and stay motivated to keep up the good work. Lark can help you interpret blood pressure readings and suggest small changes to make when possible.

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