Professional blood pressure monitors are accurate and durable, but they're not meant to be operated on your own -- you'd need another set of arms, and often an extra pair of eyes, to do it. When the cuff that's wrapped around your upper arm inflates, blood flow temporarily stops; as the cuff deflates, blood flow gradually restarts. Pressure can be evaluated with a stethoscope by listening for Korotkoff sounds, which change in tone and volume as the blood begins flowing again, and by a gauge readout.
Home blood pressure monitors are more compact than professional models, but even basic monitors can be accurate. As you step up in price, you gain features such as the ability to store 30 or more blood pressure readings, calculate the average of several readings or detect irregular heartbeats. Some models also offer extra-adjustable cuffs, and they can announce your blood pressure readings.
According to reviews, the best blood pressure monitors are manufactured by Omron. This company tends to introduce models with some regularity, and the latest crop has accumulated hundreds of user reviews. The Omron 10 Series BP785 (*Est. $80) is a particular standout. It costs less than many other full-featured monitors, and although it may be too new to appear in the BHS or dabl Educational Trust databases , it receives excellent ratings from a reputable consumer testing organization and mostly positive reviews from users. Some do report, however, error messages that can take several minutes to clear.
The BP785 stores 100 date- and time-stamped readings each for two users, tracks eight weeks of average morning and evening readings and has an auto-calibration feature that automatically doublechecks individual readings. Its Its ComFit cuff spans the range of a medium (or standard) to large cuff, fitting arms that range from 9 inches to 17 inches (23 cm to 43 cm) in diameter. Users say getting in and out of this cuff on their own is easy; only a few users found the ComFit cuff too stiff. If there's any disadvantage to having so many features in a blood pressure monitor, it would be the learning curve; users say reading the manual before the first use is a must. Carefully following its instructions is the best way to ensure accurate readings.
The well-reviewed A&D Medical LifeSource UA-767 (*Est. $50) doesn't offer the same wide range of adjustability in a single cuff as the Omron BP785 does. Instead, an identical readout and gauge system is paired with three cuff sizes (small, medium, and large), each designated by a separate model number. This, along with conflicting product descriptions of what size arm each cuff fits, spurs a number of reviews from frustrated users who ended up with the wrong-size cuff. To add to the confusion, it appears that the UA-767 is available in several different models, but most of them are different configurations of the same monitor, with different-size cuffs and with or without an AC adapter. Owners report mixed experiences with A&D Medical customer service when trying to resolve this issue; one owner's miss-sized cuff was cheerfully replaced for free, while another had to make several attempts at contacting customer service to reach a satisfactory resolution.
Sizing issues aside, the UA-767 is assigned the highest possible rating of A/A under the British Hypertension Society's testing protocol. Experts and users alike praise it for its consistent readings, although a few report readings that vary greatly. Both the BHS and dabl Educational Trust also warn that this monitor tends to be inaccurate at higher blood pressures. The UA-767 doesn't have quite as many features as the Omron BP785, but it does detect irregular heartbeats, calculate the average of all stored readings and store up to 90 blood pressure readings in its memory. Some users wish the current reading were displayed on-screen for a little longer,.
Another A&D Medical unit that gets a double-A grade from the BHS is the LifeSource UA-767T (*Est. $120) . This model is also recommended by the American Foundation for the Blind's AccessWorld, thanks to its one-button ease of use and voice announcements, with a headphone jack for privacy.
The less pricey A&D Medical LifeSource UA-787EJ (*Est. $80) is an updated version of the previous UA-787V model. Although many users and experts like how easy it is to put on the Easy-Fit cuff--which, like Omron's ComFit cuff, is semi-rigid and accommodates arms from 9 inches to 17 inches (23 cm to 43 cm) in circumference, it doesn't fit everybody. The UA-787 has an impressive list of features but user reviews are relatively scarce; the biggest concern we see expressed is inaccurate readings, although this model also passes the European Society of Hypertension's testing protocol.
Basic blood pressure monitors offer good functionality at a low cost, helping you monitor your health without breaking the budget. Even though the highly rated Panasonic EW3109W (*Est. $50) draws more accuracy concerns from users than high-end blood pressure monitors, it appears in both the British Hypertension Society (BHS) and dabl Educational Trust databases. The former notes that it's a Pass under the European Society of Hypertension (ESH) testing protocol as of May 2010, and the latter awards the EW3109W a Recommended rating for at-rest use.
The EW3109W has a 90-reading memory capacity, draws user praise for its well-built and sturdy construction, and its cuff fits arm circumferences from about 7.75 inches to 15.75 inches (20 cm to 40 cm). Overall the monitor receives excellent user ratings, with a 4.5-star ranking from more than 325 users on Amazon.com, and it gets a near-perfect rating from about two dozen reviewers on Walmart.com. Although owners say the Panasonic EW3109W is too bulky to be dubbed a true portable model, it's still small enough to be carried around in a pinch. The manual lists the memory function as "automatic," but you do have to push a button to store each reading.
Another top budget pick, the ReliOn HEM-741CREL (*Est. $45) upper-arm monitor, doesn't have a memory function to store previous readings but can detect irregular heartbeats when in use, and owners say it's easy to use straight out of the box. This model, which is manufactured by Omron and sold through Walmart, doesn't appear in the dabl Educational Trust or BHS databases, but it receives an excellent rating for accuracy from a leading consumer organization.
Some users try to assuage their concerns about this monitor's accuracy by taking it to a doctor's office or hospital to test it against medical-grade equipment, with mixed results. Some users report getting wildly different readings than from medical-grade equipment, and others say that even when readings are accurate at first, they become less reliable over time -- sometimes in as little as a week. We also found some user concerns about durability for this model, but it receives an overall 4.5-star rating from more than 220 users at Walmart.com.
If you prefer a wrist blood pressure monitor, we found the best reviews overall for the Omron 7 Series BP652 (*Est. $70) . Accuracy is of paramount importance, and experts point out that positioning a wrist-mounted monitor correctly can be problematic. However, the BP652 was at least as accurate as upper-arm monitors in series of independent tests. It has indicator lights that flash orange if the monitor is incorrectly positioned and blue when you get it right.
The BP652 offers two separate user accounts, automatically shows how the user's blood pressure compares to international guidelines and can average up to three readings taken in a 10-minute span. In fact, the BP652 comes with so many features that some users report a long learning curve, and they say reading the manual before use is a must. They note that following directions precisely makes a big difference in getting the monitor properly positioned, which in turn helps to get accurate readings. Still, users occasionally report inaccurate readings; one says that according to Omron customer service, this model isn't appropriate for those with diabetes or hypertension. Calls to the company about this went unanswered.
The A&D Medical LifeSource UB-512 (*Est. $60) also scores well in independent tests, but it receives lower accuracy ratings than the Omron BP652. Users say this model's small size makes it easy to keep tabs on blood pressure while on the go and that it's easier to use than an upper-arm cuff, but they also find it tricky to get consistent readings. This unit has a 60-entry memory and irregular heartbeat detection and can calculate average morning and evening readings.