June 1, 2013 Update
Although the below article detailing the most accurate models (skip there now) is still relevant, last year I bought three different blood pressure monitors on the theory that the more kinds of measurement device I had, the better I could check the accuracy. Here are some quick reviews you may find interesting.
First, I got a Veridian wrist model and another Veridian, an arm cuff model. The arm cuff model ended up breaking in the first year, which was a big disappointment.
As to the wrist model, the Veridian SmartHeart Digital Blood Pressure Monitor, which I got at WalMart for a very reasonable price, at first I wasn't all that confident in its accuracy, but my confidence has increased over time. There were times it showed very high readings that correlated with other monitors, but other times it was the ONLY one with a high or low reading. I tried to make sure the cuff was level with my heart and double-checked, but found it overall to be more erratic. After owning it for over a year, I put this down to the problem of all wrist monitors: being sensitive to its level and position as well as the tightness of the cuff (should be neither too tight nor too loose). When I brought it in to my doctors for testing (something I did over multiple visits), I have to admit it did consistently match their readings, however.
I also decided to make a big switch and buy a manual sphygmomanometer - one of those doodads you have to pump up yourself, with a stethoscope and everything. It's my favorite one. If you're not afraid of learning to use an old-fashioned cuff, I highly recommend it.
The thin, flexible cuff of the manual blood pressure monitor is great for a wide variety of arm sizes. I have a short, chubby arm and it works just fine. And once you get the hang of how to use it - and it takes some trial and error - you can tell if it's working or not just fine. No more wondering about accuracy - you know if it's accurate, because you can check if it's calibrated properly each time.
Tips for Using a Manual Sphygmomanometer, From One Amateur to Another:
The lessons I learned in using this machine are:
- DON'T close the valve on the inflation bulb tightly. It needs to be closed when you start inflating, but not TIGHTLY closed. Keeping it loosely closed means you can quickly start deflating at the right number.
- After loosening the valve when it's time to deflate, you may need to hold it in place or nudge it slightly looser as it's deflating, or it might get "stuck" and stop deflating.
- It may take some dexterity to figure out how to clip on the dial. They recommend you clip it to a book, but I use a thin piece of cardboard because those clips are tight.
These were minor issues, easily solved. I love this machine's accuracy.
Overall, as somebody who is without medical insurance, I am thrilled I have this at home - and it's very reasonable in price. The model of manual sphygmomanometer I chose was the Omron 104MAJ Home Blood Pressure Kit (that takes you to Amazon.com).
Original Article - Most Accurate Digital Sphygmomanometer
Many doctors are now recommending that their patients with high blood pressure monitor their blood pressure at home using an easy-to-use and accurate digital blood pressure machine. As I learned from my own search for a machine to track my hypertension, the challenge in finding the best home blood pressure monitor is not finding the cheapest. Blood pressure monitors have become very affordable. The challenge is:
- Finding a machine that approaches the accuracy of the equipment at the doctor's office. What I learned was that home machines are far more accurate than they were when I was a kid.
- Figuring out which type of blood pressure monitor to get--finger, wrist cuff, or arm cuff.
My main priority was to find the blood pressure machine that was the most accurate. Through trial and error, I was surprised to learn that while brand was an indicator of quality, it was not the whole picture. Though Omron seems to emerge as the dominant brand in quality these days, the accuracy of one brand over another can only be determined on a machine to machine basis. The quality of blood pressure monitors depends on the electronics, and each machine is truly different from the next on the shelf.
Three Types of Blood Pressure Monitor
When you choose a blood pressure machine, you'll be choosing from three different types:
- upper arm blood pressure monitor
- wrist blood pressure monitor
- finger blood pressure monitor
Generally, upper arm monitors are the most accurate blood pressure
machine of the three types, and finger monitors the least accurate.
Upper arm monitors do tend to cost more, but I've found the difference in cost to be not a big deal: I'm on a budget, but I chose an upper arm monitor. We're talking less than a $100 for most blood pressure monitors.
A&D Medical LifeSource Quick Response UA-787EJ
Starting off the list of top blood pressure monitors, the A&D Medical LifeSource Quick Response UA-787EJ blood pressure monitor, which goes around the upper arm, is extremely highly rated, with high marks for consistency and ease of use. The cuff fits upper arm circumferences from 9 inches to 17 inches, meaning some folks who would normally need a large cuff will be happy with this one. It stores up to 60 readings.
Omron HEM-790IT With Arm Cuff
The upper arm Omron HEM-790IT is recommended by reviewers if you want a high tech, PC compatable blood pressure monitor.
Omron HEM-780N Upper Arm Blood Pressure Machine
The Omron HEM-780N is another arm-cuff machine. It's rated as overall one of the best and most accurate monitors with over 680 reviews--some reviewers determined it was well-calibrated with the blood pressure machine at the hospital. It is reputed to be great for large arm size and home use.
Since at the time I felt this was the best upper arm blood pressure monitor, I purchased this one myself. I like it. I have only one complaint--my arm is short and round and the cuff is too rigid to accommodate it well, so finding a good position can take some maneuvering.
Omron HEM-652 Wrist Monitor
If you prefer a wrist monitor for ease of use (for some people, it's much easier to adjust the cuff than the upper arm blood pressure monitors) consider the Omron HEM-652 wrist monitor. It has one great feature that improves its accuracy above other wrist cuff models - it lets you know if your wrist is being held at the right level.
Omron IntelliSense Automatic Arm Monitor
The Omron IntelliSense Automatic is considered by reviewers a very accurate upper arm blood pressure machine good for use in fitness, with a cuff that can accommodate large arms quite well. However, the reviews I researched didn't specify which automatic model with IntelliSense was getting high marks--the plain "IntelliSense Automatic," the HEM 711, HEM 711AC, or HEM 712C.
Tips for Using Blood Pressure Monitors at Home
- Take your blood pressure machine to your doctor's office to have it calibrated against the manual sphygmomanometer (the doctor's equipment used for measuring blood pressure).
- Average readings over the long term are more important than a single blood pressure reading.
- Take your blood pressure at the same time every day.
- Unless the monitor is equipped with memory storage for more than one user, use one blood pressure monitor per person, ideally, to keep the readings separate.
- Be sure to position wrist monitors as instructed to get accurate blood pressure readings.
This author may receive compensation for purchases made through links in this article. See her disclosure regarding this compensation.