In part 1 of this post I wrote about how taking blood pressure readings here and there can actually cause stress and worry without any benefit. Our recommendation is to either borrow a 24 hour blood pressure monitor from your doctor or take a home blood pressure diary in a standard way. Instructions on how to do this can be found in our earlier post ‘How to use a blood pressure diary to reduce my risk of unnecessary medications and side effects’. 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.
But an obvious question that comes from this advice is ‘how often should I have a 24 hour blood pressure monitor or take a home blood pressure diary?’ And the answer, of course, is ‘that depends…’.
Fit and healthy
Let’s assume you are fit and healthy (I hope that’s true), with no diagnosis of high blood pressure and no other medical conditions. These lucky people don’t need to check their blood pressure more than once a year at most, some say every 3-5 years is plenty. Sounds great doesn’t it?!
Back in the real world, a more common scenario might be that you have a diagnosis of high blood pressure, but it’s under good control. Either you’ve made some changes to your lifestyle or you’ve been given some medications which are suiting you well. In this situation a set of readings every 6 to 12 months is considered plenty to check that everything remains fine.
Working on it
Now the less fortunate ones. What about if your blood pressure is high but it isn’t under control yet? In this situation, we assume that something is being done to try to improve things. Maybe you’ve started doing more exercise. Maybe you’ve lost some weight. Maybe your doctor has started some new medication. In any of these situations, after you have made a change, let things settle for about 6 weeks then do another set of readings to get an average blood pressure. This will reliably tell you whether things are improving.
So, why not take a set of readings any sooner than these recommendations? In the first two cases, it’s because although blood pressure does change over time, it tends to do so slowly. I’m not talking about day to day or hour to hour fluctuations which we all get. I mean average blood pressure, which is the best thing to use to decide how to help someone. Earlier readings are unlikely to show any change and we know that taking lots of readings can make people anxious… and then feeling anxious puts up your blood pressure!
In the final example, leaving things for 6 weeks after making a change allows things to stabilise so we can be confident about how much benefit has been gained. Any earlier, and it may simply be that more time is required, so you’ll only need to take readings again.
Hopefully this information might give you the confidence to actually put that blood pressure monitor back in the cupboard for a bit. It’s important to be aware of your blood pressure, but it certainly shouldn’t rule your life.