The Best Blood Pressure Monitor, According to Your Needs

BY: Shannon Grilli | Apr 28, 2017

If you suffer from hypertension, diabetes, or another health condition that can affect your blood pressure, chances are you've searched for the best blood pressure monitor for your needs. Checking blood pressure at home is relatively easy, and there are more types and models available than ever before. Of course, that also means it can be a bit daunting to find the right one for your particular needs. Below, we break down the different types of blood pressure monitors available, and outline the benefits and limitations of each.

Manual Blood Pressure Monitor

Consisting of an arm cuff, a squeeze bulb (to inflate the cuff), and a stethoscope, this is the type of monitor commonly used in doctors' offices—and for good reason, as it tends to be more accurate than automatic devices. Using it, however, can prove to be quite difficult and requires a lot of practice, since you must be able to accurately detect your pulse through the stethoscope.

Pros

  • Inexpensive
  • Accurate readings
  • Long-lasting, if properly maintained

Cons

  • Hard to use, may require assistance from a second person
  • Cannot archive readings for later reference

Digital Blood Pressure Monitor (Arm Cuff Version)

Automatic or digital blood pressure monitors continue to grow in popularity since they are easy to use and can track blood pressure readings over time. Like manual blood pressure monitors, most digital monitors use an arm cuff, only this cuff automatically inflates and contains a built-in stethoscope. This means the user does not have to do any counting or listening at all, and only has to wait for the reading to appear on the digital display.

Pros

  • Easy to use (especially for those who are hard of hearing)
  • No pumping or counting required
  • Digital display can archive readings for later reference
  • May include additional features such as bluetooth connectivity, or the ability to store readings for multiple users

Cons

  • More expensive than manual monitors
  • Usually require batteries or external charging
  • May be less accurate than manual monitors, especially with improper cuff size (see below)

Cuff Sizing:

Whether you choose a manual or digital monitor, proper cuff size is crucial if you want an accurate reading. To ensure a proper fit, always check your own arm measurements against the fit guide for your particular device. While sizes may vary from monitor to monitor, this chart serves as a general guide:

  • Small cuff: upper arm circumference of 7.1"–8.7"
  • Medium cuff: upper arm circumference of 8.8"–12.8"
  • Large cuff: upper arm circumference of 12.9"–18"

Finger or Wrist Blood Pressure Monitor

More and more blood pressure monitors take readings using a cuff or band that fits around the user's wrist instead of their upper arm. These digital monitors are fully automatic and are often smaller, making them more portable than arm cuff versions. They are easier to use than arm monitors, but tend to be extremely sensitive to body position, and, as such, produce more errors.

Finger monitors are even more convenient and travel-friendly than wrist models, but come with all the same limitations.

Pros

  • Easy to use
  • Lightweight, portable
  • Fully automatic w/digital displays and features
  • May be more comfortable than arm cuff models
  • Ideal for people who can't use arm cuffs for medical reasons

Cons

  • More expensive than manual or digital arm cuff versions
  • Less accurate readings
  • Very susceptible to body movements, which can lead to errors

Tips for a More Accurate Reading

While accuracy is an important factor to consider when choosing the best blood pressure monitor for you, it's also important to select a model that suits your lifestyle. A manual monitor may give a more dependable reading, but, if it's too difficult to use, may ultimately not serve you well. And while many of the newer models are less accurate, their relative ease of use makes it possible to take multiple readings in a row if you have any questions about your results. Regardless of which type of blood pressure monitor you choose, there are a number of tips and tricks you can follow to ensure you get as accurate a reading as possible.

  • Ensure a proper cuff fit by consulting the chart provided here, the chart provided by your device, or a medical professional.
  • Refrain from smoking, eating, and exercising for at least a half-hour before testing. You should also avoid caffeine and alcohol, and wait to take any medications until after you test your blood pressure.
  • Avoid taking your blood pressure when you're nervous or excited. Ideally, you should try to relax at least five minutes before testing.
  • Use the same arm every time.
  • Consider the time: readings are typically higher in the morning than in the evening, so you may want to test at the same time every day, or test multiple times throughout the day, depending on your doctor's advice.
  • Make sure the device is at heart level. This is especially important for wrist monitors, which are highly susceptible to inaccurate readings when in the wrong position.
  • Refrain from talking or moving when taking your reading.
  • Calibrate your monitor regularly. This may mean sending it to the manufacturer to be calibrated every 1 to 2 years, or bringing it in to your doctor's office, where they can check it against their own equipment to check for inaccuracies.