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Monitoring your blood pressure

A Healthy Hearts Guide  WHF red heart corporate logo ®

picture of African American woman taking her own blood pressure
  • High blood pressure (HBP) affects two thirds of African- Americans with such devastating long-term affects as kidney damage, heart damage and stroke. African Americans who have a stroke suffer more extensive physical impairments that last longer than those of other racial groups.

  • The death rate for stroke is 79.8 percent higher in African-American women than white women. African Americans have a death rate from HBP that is about 4 1/2 times higher than the rate for white women.* We must work together with our healthcare professionals to control this silent killer

Who should monitor your blood pressure?
If you are on a program for control of high blood pressure, it is probably a good idea to learn how to take your own blood pressure. By working in partnership with your doctor, you can keep your blood pressure under better control.

Blood pressure kits can be purchased at your local surgical supply store. The electronic digital type is easiest to use but you may want to learn to use the standard blood pressure cuff with separate stethoscope. While you may need someone to assist you with this type of blood pressure device, the results are generally regarded as being more accurate. Whichever device you choose, have it checked periodically against the most accurate mercury-type device used by hospitals and doctors, and make sure you keep your equipment in good working order.

When to take your blood pressure
You can take your blood pressure at any time of the day but don’t take a reading just after smoking a cigarette or drinking a beverage with caffeine or if you have a full bladder. Take your blood pressure when you are relaxed and sitting up for at least 5 minutes.

How to take your blood pressure
Start by taking the blood pressure in both arms. It is common for blood pressure readings to differ by as much as 10 points. If the readings stay consistently similar, your doctor may suggest you use the arm with the higher reading. Ask your doctor what range your blood pressure should be and what to do should your blood pressure become too high or too low. Here are some other guidelines:

  1. Sit at a table with your arm comfortably extended. When using a digital machine, note the product instruction sheet for the best placement of your arm to increase the accuracy of the reading.

  2. Place the cuff onto a bare upper arm. The cuff should fit snugly. It should wrap easily around the upper arm with some overlap. The edge of the cuff should be about one inch above the bend of the arm with the middle of the bladder (the rubber insert) over the brachial artery (locate the brachial artery by gently depressing your index and middle finger over the area and feeling for a pulse). Special cuffs are designed for those with a large upper arm. An improper reading will result if using a regular cuff on an obese person’s

  3. Inflate the cuff to 180 or as directed on the instructions. The numbers on the digital scale will read on a screen when inflation and deflation have been completed. This is the number you record. Write down the date, time and blood pressure reading with the higher number on the top and the lower number on the bottom (see example of a completed Blood Pressure Record below)






10:00 am


Forgot pills. Took 2 hours late.


10:15 am


Feeling better. Started DASH diet today.

If using a standard stethoscope and sphygmomanometer (blood pressure apparatus), you may need some help in fastening the cuff and with holding the bell of the stethoscope snug against your arm . Place the ear pieces into you ears and the diaphragm over the middle bend of the arm where you felt the brachial pulse — just below the edge of the cuff. Squeeze the bulb to inflate the cuff quickly to 180 (or to 20 points above the last reading), then slowly and carefully open the valve (located on the side of the bulb) to release the air. Listen carefully. Note the number reading when you first heard sound and the number reading when you last heard sound. Record both of these numbers.

Tools to help you monitor your blood pressure
Click here for a Blood Pressure Record to print out.
Click here for a step-by-step picture guide on how to take your own blood pressure.

Note: blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury or “mm Hg.”. The higher number is called the systolic pressure and is the pressure exerted on artery walls when the heart is in the contracting phase. The lower number is the diastolic pressure and is the pressure exerted on artery walls when the heart is in the resting phase. In striving to achieve better management of high blood pressure, new limits for normal were recently introduced by the World Health Organization (WHO), recommending the systolic reading be less than 135 mm of Hg. and the diastolic less than 85. When the bottom number goes above 85 and stays there, then you are considered to have high blood pressure. Clinicians sometimes institute these values when managing the care of diabetes or other conditions that place an individual at higher risk for complications. For more information on high blood pressure go to www.nhlbi.nih.gov

* Stroke facts are from National Stroke Association.

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1999-2000; updates: 2002, 2004, 2005, 2007 Women's Heart Foundation, Inc. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use prohibited. The information contained in this Women's Heart Foundation (WHF) Web site is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment, and WHF recommends consultation with your doctor or health care professional.