Terre Pruitt's Blog

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Blood Pressure Monitors – It’s All In the Wrist

Posted by terrepruitt on February 25, 2012

Are wrist blood pressure monitors accurate?  I was wondering because my blood pressure seems low when I use my wrist blood pressure monitor.  I know meditative body mind practices like Nia can help keep blood pressure down, but it seems really low.  The first thing I looked at on the internet made me laugh.  The question was, “How accurate are wrist blood pressure monitors? Mine consistently shows a lower blood pressure reading than that taken by my doctor.” And a portion of the answer said, “blood pressure measurements taken at the wrist are usually higher and less accurate than those taken at your upper arm.” 

I often think that blood pressure taken at the doctor’s office is higher just due to the stress of being at the doctor’s office.  Even if you don’t have what they call “white coat syndrome” sometimes the stress of getting to the doctor’s office (maybe there is traffic, or you have had to interrupt your busy life to take time to go to the doctor), the stress of WHY you are at the doctor’s (most of us don’t go to the doctor when we are healthy and feeling fine, so the fact that we are there could be stressful), or the stress of having to wait (often times we don’t get called in by our appointment time, or we do and we are stuck sitting on the table) can be causes for higher blood pressure readings than normal.  I think that a blood pressure reading at home is more accurate because you are IN your life.  You are IN your normal stresses.  That is why I was wondering about the wrist cuffs because I think the situation (home monitor) is more ideal then doctor office monitoring.  But with mine showing lower than I would expect I was wondering.  It isn’t actually LOW, it is just lower than I expect.  Because what I usually do is think, “Oh, I should check my blood pressure.” as I am downstairs so I run upstairs and try to sit and wait before taking it, but I end up pressing the button and just seems lower than I would guess because I was just moving around.

The American Heart Association states:

Blood Pressure
Category

 
Systolic mm Hg (upper #)  
  Diastolic mm Hg
(lower #)
Normal     less than 120 

and

less than 80
Prehypertension      120 – 139

or

80 – 89
High Blood Pressure 
(Hypertension) Stage 1 
 
140 – 159

 
or

 
90 – 99
High Blood Pressure
(Hypertension) Stage 2 
 
160 or higher 

 
or

 
100 or higher

Just like with all information I found conflicting information.  I found information stating that wrist monitors were good and I found information stating they were not accurate.  The main concern regarding accuracy was arm position.  The common statement was that the readings accuracy is affected by the arm position so if the arm was not properly placed the reading could be wrong.  Makes sense, but I was not truly understand why resting one’s left elbow on a table so that the right and monitor were at heart height would be such a challenge to people using a wrist monitor.  I also found information stating that wrist monitors were more expensive than arm cuffs, but then the monitors that I saw being advertised on the internet were less than the cuff ones.  So, again, a lot of conflicting information.  I did see information stating that wrist monitor quality (meaning reading accuracy) had improved a lot  I personally think that cuff blood pressure monitor, the kind where you put your arm in the cuff and secure it around your upper arm, is more accurate.  However, I also believe they are more expensive, so I bought a wrist monitor.

If you are interesting in having a blood pressure monitor at home, I suggest you buy one from a place that allows you to return it.  Then when you go to the doctor take your monitor and take your blood pressure with it to compare to the doctor’s blood pressure monitor.  If it is not accurate then you can return it to where you bought it. 

There is a technique for ensure your arm is in the correct position when using a wrist monitor that could be easier than the elbow-table method.  Cross you arm over your heart, as if you are holding your right shoulder in your left hand.  This ensures no movement and that the monitor is above the heart/level with the heart.  Don’t hold your shoulder just let your fingers rest on the front of your shoulder.  I thought this was an excellent method.

Are you thinking about owning a blood pressure monitor?  Wrist or arm cuff?  Do you already have a blood pressure monitor at home? Wrist or arm cuff?  Do you get a little “white coat syndrome” at the doctor’s office?

21 Responses to “Blood Pressure Monitors – It’s All In the Wrist”

  1. Mike said

    I only get white coat syndrome if I have to WAIT too long. I think regardless of the type of b.p. monitor one uses it’s best to average it out over several days. My b.p. I’m sure is much higher when I am at work than it is as I write this; lower still when I ride my motorcycle etc…

    Like

    • Yes, I think when one is instructed to monitor blood pressure it is over a period of time and a few different readings. I think it is expected for it to fluctuate. It is when the reading consitently high that there is a concern.

      But still if the monitor being used is not accuate then it will just be giving inaccurate readings over time. So it is nice to have an idea that the monitor is accurate.

      Like

      • Greg B said

        What if you are consistently having your BP taken during stressful moments? i.e., sitting in a dentist chair, in the doctor’s office worrying about your health, or when there is high stress at work and you take your lunch break to get checked etc.). Is that an acceptable baseline for your BP?

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        • Greg – I giggled at your question because — EXACTLY!

          I didn’t even know they took your blood pressure at the dentist until recently someone told me they had high blood pressure. I asked where they were told they had high blood pressure and they said, “The dentist.” I laughed because I know this person 1) does not have high blood pressure 2) hates/fears the dentist 3) was going to have drilling done. So what you are saying/asking is a key thing in determining if you truly have high blood pressure or not. MOST people I know who have experienced a high read at the doctor’s office get the option of taking home a blood pressure monitor to monitor their blood pressure at home. Because as I mentioned in the post there are many reasons why a blood pressure read at the doctor’s office could show high blood pressure.

          So . . . if you are getting high readings in high stressed situations — I would think you would want to get a monitor or borrow one and then take your blood pressure throughout the day. Make a journal. This is what I have heard my friends’ doctors recommend. With you taking it during the day you get a better idea of your “baseline”.

          Also, if you ARE getting high readings at the doctor’s office and you attribute it to stress, there is a lesson to be learned there, yes? It is PROOF that high stress/stressful situations are not good for you. It is PROOF that high stress/stressful situations affect the body! So . . . . it could be a flashing neon sign to take up something that can help lower your blood pressure and/or stress. If you find something that helps with the daily stress and helps lower the baseline blood pressure* then when the pressure gets “high” it is not as high as if you did not have that technique/practice.

          So . . . I am not a doctor or a medical professional, but my opinion is that blood pressure taken in a high stress situation is not a good baseline . . . but it is a great lesson. But the best person for you to discuss this with is YOUR doctor/medical professional.

          *”something” to help as in Nia, Yoga, almost any type of exercise, deep breathing, meditation, etc.

          Like

  2. Mary said

    OMG! This is the most informative post on this topic I’ ve seen. Really good one, especially the statics offered! Speaking about blood pressure monitors, particularly, electronic blood pressure monitor, being accurate, i believe that scientific and technological advancements will contribute as time passes.

    Like

  3. Rob said

    My readings are really low when I take them with the Omron wrist BP monitor – most of the time, it is like 105/65 with pulse of around 55. I almost never see figures above 115/75. The pulse figure is accurate because I know through other sources. I am 47/M. But when I take with cuff ones, the BP is usually far higher (120-135/75-80). I never had a chance to check them back to back.

    Wonder what’s going on..

    Like

    • So many wonders . . . . so many reasons . . . . I couldn’t tell you. Are you holding your wrist in the proper position when you are taking your blood pressure with the wrist monitor? Are the circumstances the same from test to test? Like are you at the doctor’s office when you are having it taken via cuff? And sitting at home when you take it with the wrist? You have to make sure the circumstances are pretty much exactly the same or take those different circumstances into account.

      The best way to figure out what is going on is to take them together.

      Sometimes I think I can get a higher reading off the cuff ones because they hurt my arm so bad and I get so nervous it is not going to stop inflating and I am just about to scream, “Mercy!!!!” when it stops, my stress has GOT to be high at that point! GACK! Those cuffs!

      Like

  4. I obtained my undergraduate degree in biochemistry from Cornell, graduated from Medical
    School and was Chief Resident during my Family Medicine residency.
    There is a correlation between our hypertension and the amount of alcohol
    we consume. With time, generally if the force of the flow of blood is often elevated, the tissue that comprises the wall surfaces of blood vessels gets stretched beyond its healthy limit.

    Like

    • Lawerence,

      Thank you so much for your biography and information regarding alcohol and high blood pressure. And, you’ve stated one of the reasons why doctors prescribe medicine for high blood pressure, because over time when the pressure is continuous it stresses the vessels beyond their tolerance. Thank you so much for your comment on this post about blood pressure monitors!

      Like

  5. Amparo said

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    Like

  6. Celeste said

    This excellent website certainly has all of the info I wanted
    about this subject and didn’t know who to ask.

    Like

  7. sheenmeem said

    Very informative. Thank you. I agree with you about the doctor’s office reading. The one taken at home can be more accurate.

    Like

  8. Clyde said

    I’ve been wondering about the accuracy since I got my wrist monitor (SafeLife) a few months ago. It consistently reads 6 to 20 points lower than my cuff monitor. I got it to use when on the road away from home where carrying a cuff monitor would be inconvenient.
    No adjustment either, probably by design because we’d all put them where we thought they should be.

    Liked by 1 person

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