Home blood pressure monitors are a handy health tool
The World Heart Federation estimates that at least 970 million people worldwide have high blood pressure or hypertension -- a risk factor for coronary heart disease and stroke. Research indicates that at-home self-measurement of blood pressure can help you stay healthy in several ways:
- It provides more blood pressure measurements within a limited period.
- Seeing results immediately can serve as an incentive to control blood pressure.
- A log of blood pressure readings can be helpful to your healthcare provider when adjusting your medication(s), and diagnosing and preventing problems.
- Being able to check your blood pressure in a variety of situations (at work, for example) may give a clearer picture of your overall blood pressure health.
- Self-measurement can help detect "white coat" hypertension, an elevation in blood pressure brought on by the anxiety of being in a doctor's office.
- Those with normal blood pressure can track this important health number and be proactive in monitoring for any unusual blood pressure fluctuations.
Visiting your doctor to have your blood pressure taken every single day isn't really practical, and the public-use blood pressure cuffs located in some pharmacies can get out of calibration, resulting in very inaccurate readings. So if your doctor wants you to track your blood pressure -- or if you want to be proactive and track it yourself -- you're going to need a portable blood pressure monitor you can use at home.
Monitoring your blood pressure at home doesn't take the place of medical consults, but, when combined with your physician's measurements, home measurements can be a powerful tool for taking control of your health.
When you're shopping for a home blood pressure cuff, ease of use and accuracy are the two most important features to take into account. Experts warn that the difficulty of correctly positioning a wrist monitor introduces a larger margin of error than with upper-arm cuffs, but some users find wrist monitors to be more comfortable and easier to put on.
What should I look for in an at-home blood pressure monitor?
All of the home blood pressure monitors discussed in this report are automatic, digital models -- they inflate themselves and take the reading for you, usually at the push of a single button. The entire process takes about 30 to 50 seconds.
Even so, taking your own blood pressure can be a bit of a balancing act, so the best blood pressure monitors have semi-rigid cuffs that are easy to get on and off your own arm or wrist. Other features to look for include a large, easy-to-read display and a memory function for storing your readings over time. You can find out what else to look for in the buying guide section of this report.
You can get a perfectly adequate home blood pressure cuff that meets our basic criteria for performance, features and ease of use for around $40 to $50. If you want more advanced features -- such as an extra-large display, a cuff that speaks your blood pressure readings (useful for those with vision impairment) or Bluetooth connectivity with your mobile device -- be prepared to pay more, although blood pressure monitors are still very affordable -- our best reviewed model with Bluetooth capability comes in at just about $70 and will last for years.
No matter what sort of blood pressure cuff you get, experts recommend taking it to your doctor's office for comparison against medical-grade equipment. That gives you a baseline for determining how accurate and consistent your home monitor's measurements really are.
You must also read the manufacturer's instructions and follow them closely in order to get accurate readings. We have yet to see a home blood pressure monitor that doesn't receive a noteworthy number of complaints about accuracy, and it's a sure bet that those complaints often stem from incorrect use.
ConsumerSearch editors evaluated hundreds of user reviews and expert ratings to determine the best blood pressure monitors for performance, ease of use and features. See our reports on blood glucose monitors and digital thermometers for other items that can round out your home health kit.
Best arm blood pressure monitors
Of the upper-arm blood pressure monitors we evaluated, two were the most consistently accurate: The wireless Omron BP786 (Est. $70) and the wired Panasonic EW3109W (Est. $42).
The very best-reviewed of all -- with the best mix of accuracy and advanced features -- is the wireless Omron BP786. Owners say this model is easy to use and very accurate; it also gets an excellent accuracy rating from a leading consumer research laboratory. Its many useful features include a built-in calibration check system; a TruRead mode that takes three consecutive readings one minute apart, then displays the average; an irregular heartbeat detector; and two user accounts, with storage for 100 date- and time-stamped blood pressure readings in each.
The most impressive feature, however, is the BP786's Bluetooth compatibility with iOS and Android mobile devices. Once you download the free Omron Wellness app, you can access, share or chart your readings from anywhere, or import them into the Apple Health app. One unexpected benefit of this wireless capability is that the sight-impaired can have their phone read the results to them out loud.
Despite all that functionality, you don't have to have a smartphone or tablet to use the Omron BP786, and many users appreciate its simple operation: All you really have to do is press the brightly colored Start/Stop button. The large screen, with white numerals on a black background, is easy to read even for those with limited vision. User reviews of the Omron BP786 are almost universally positive, while reviews of its Bluetooth capability are mixed (but still quite good): It typically pairs with iOS devices quickly and easily, but may take a few tries to connect with your Android device, and not every Android device is supported.
The BP786's ComFit cuff spans the range of a medium to large cuff, fitting arms from 9 inches to 17 inches (23 cm to 43 cm) in diameter. Once you get the adjustable cuff set up just right, you can slip your arm in and out of the uninflated cuff easily -- no need for a second pair of hands. The BP786 is covered by a five-year warranty and doesn't have any notable durability issues.
If you have large upper arms, your best choice is the LifeSource UA-789AC (Est. $90). The cuff on this monitor fits arms between 16.5 and 23.6 inches (42 and 60 cm) in circumference, and users love the way it's slightly tapered to provide a better fit. They also say this blood pressure monitor is durable -- some users have had theirs for several years with no problem -- and most say it's quite accurate when compared against a manual blood pressure cuff in their doctor's office.
The LifeSource UA-789AC has a fairly simple range of features: It detects an irregular heartbeat, stores up to 90 blood pressure and pulse readings in memory, and has a large, easy-to-read display. It runs off an included AC adapter or four AA batteries (not included).
The best cheap arm blood pressure monitors
If you want a simpler blood pressure monitor, there are a few viable alternatives that still offer accurate readings at about half the price of their high-end competition.
One top budget pick, the ReliOn BP200 (Est. $40) upper-arm monitor, which is sold exclusively through Walmart, can store up to 30 readings in each of two user accounts. The readings for this unit are marked with a date and time stamp, which can help reveal trends in your blood pressure readings over time.
Owners say the ReliOn BP200 is easy to use straight out of the box, and it receives an excellent accuracy rating from a leading consumer organization. The wide range of its cuff -- from 9 to 17 inches in arm circumference -- is also a plus for those with larger arms. A few years ago we noticed a rash of durability concerns with the BP200, but more recent user reviews indicate that the newer versions of this home blood pressure monitor hold up well.
Another highly rated, inexpensive blood pressure cuff, the Panasonic EW3109W (Est. $42), receives an excellent accuracy rating from a leading consumer research laboratory, and users say it's very precise. Said users are even more pleased, however, with the monitor's most notable feature: It measures your blood pressure as the cuff inflates, instead of pumping the cuff up to a set pressure and then measuring your blood pressure as it lets the air out. This helps eliminate the discomfort and -- in extreme cases -- bruising that some associate with upper-arm blood pressure cuffs.
The EW3109W's sparse selection of features includes one-touch inflation; a large, easy-to-read display; and a 90-reading memory capacity for one user. That memory storage isn't automatic, though -- you have to push a button to store each reading, and they're not marked with a date or time stamp.
Excluding the issue with the memory function, owners say the Panasonic EW3109W is fast and easy to use. It's backed by a two-year warranty and can accommodate arm circumferences of 7.75 to 15.75 inches (20 to 40 cm) with the default cuff; you can also buy a large cuff (Est. $23) that fits arms of 13.75 to 17.33 inches (35 to 40 cm). The EW3109W is covered by a two-year warranty and runs off four AA batteries (included) or an optional AC adapter, which can be purchased separately.
So: If you're particularly sensitive to the discomfort of using an upper-arm blood pressure cuff, your best choice is the Panasonic EW3109W. If you have large upper arms, go for the LifeSource UA-789AC. For a bargain that still offers the very handy feature of date- and time-stamped readings, consider the ReliOn BP200. And if you want the general all-around best-performing, feature-rich monitor that also happens to be smartphone compatible, go for the Omron 10 Series BP786 -- but be prepared to spend a little quality time with its owner's manual before you're able to use all its features.