How often should I check my blood pressure? What if it has become high or low? Don’t I need to know about it so I can correct it?
The logic of those questions seems sound. If something is wrong, unless you measure it you won’t know, and if you don’t know you can’t do anything about it. But, as you’ll have no doubt guessed by now, there is a problem with this.
Measurements can be harmful!
Doctors have learnt to be careful about measuring things. You’d think measuring something was harmless, but it isn’t always.
Blood pressure is usually measured to see if it is high. If it’s high we know you are at more risk of heart attacks and strokes.
But, how do you feel when you get a high reading? Not great I suspect. Many people worry. Others even feel that they’ve failed in some way.
Now, what if you are worried about the reading you’ve just taken, but that reading also doesn’t tell you anything useful? Now you don’t know anything more than you did before taking the reading, but you are feeling worse. This is how measuring something can actually be harmful…
How to avoid harm from measurements
Measuring blood pressure at the wrong time and place doesn’t give useful information. And if those readings are high they can make you feel worse. Although helping people feel better about high readings is complicated, we can at least help you get readings which are useful.
Getting useful blood pressure readings
Currently there are two good options. One is to borrow a 24 hour blood pressure monitor from your doctor. The second is to take a diary of blood pressure readings at home in a standard way. See our earlier blog post ‘How to use a blood pressure diary to reduce my risk of unnecessary medications and side effects’ for details. We will also be releasing a mobile app in the next few weeks which will help you do this and create a report for your doctor.
These ways of measuring your blood pressure will give you an average blood pressure reading. We know this average reading IS helpful in deciding if you are at risk of heart attacks and strokes. Readings taken here and there and at other times and places are not known to be as useful… que potential worry without any benefit.
I hope you can now see why doctors have learnt to be cautious about measuring things. Measuring something in the wrong way may give misleading information and can easily cause stress and worry.
Another obvious question that now comes from this is ‘how often should I have a 24 hour blood pressure monitor or take a home blood pressure diary?’ I’ll write about that in part 2.