High pressure area

Doctors advise everyone over 40 to have their blood pressure (BP) checked at least once a year. The problem is, a single test will rarely be enough to diagnose hypertension (high blood pressure)-often because of "white-coat hypertension," in which the patient’s BP rises simply from the stress of being tested. You need a series of tests in non-stressful conditions to provide an accurate picture. The answer? A home blood-pressure monitor, now available in a variety of types.

According to Dr. Anthony Graham, senior (chief?) cardiologist at St. Michael’s Hospital and spokesperson for the Heart and Stroke Foundation, the "gold standard" devices are the aneroid, or pressure-cuff machines, that mimic the effect of a doctor’s sphygmomanometer, with its inflatable cuff.

A good example is the Omron wrist blood pressure monitor (left; $TK), which fits snugly around your wrist. You assume a relaxed position (as per instructions), then press the START button on the display. You’ll feel tingling pressure as the cuff inflates; after about 30 seconds, the readout displays your blood pressure alternating with your pulse rate, while the cuff deflates. A memory feature alls you to access the previous reading.

"Anybody who’s going to get one of these things should try several and get one that first of all is comfortable and that one can use," Graham advises. "Generally speaking the cuff type is the best-and it should be calibrated with the recording your doctor would get in his office, so, take your machine in and have it calibrated to ensure that it’s an apples-and-apples comparison."

With a machine capable of providing reproducible numbers, Graham says, "blood pressure can be taken outside the doctor’s office on multiple occasions and submitted as supplementary information to aid in determining whether there is high blood pressure or not, or for monitoring therapy." However, he cautions, "for people to just go and buy one of these things and make their own diagnosis as to whether they have high blood pressure or not and therefore not go into work, things of that nature-that’s not appropriate. They should be used in the context of a supervised medical environment."