What the best blood pressure monitor has

  • Keys that are easy to use, and a display that's easy to read. Some models offer extra-large displays, illuminated buttons and voice-announced readings.
  • Circuitry that detects -- and compensates for -- an irregular heartbeat. Some blood pressure cuffs will alert you to an irregular heartbeat; a few can also compensate so the irregularity doesn't skew the readings.
  • A cuff that fits you. If the cuff on your blood pressure monitor doesn't fit your arm or wrist, it can't give accurate readings. Some blood pressure monitors let you change the cuffs out, so you can use the same monitor on people of different sizes.
  • Ample memory. The best blood pressure monitors store at least 90 readings in memory -- enough to log three months of daily blood pressure measurements.
  • Helpful feedback. A blood pressure cuff that shows where you fall in the typical range of healthy (or unhealthy) readings can help you understand the state of your health.
  • An averaging function. Experts say that averaging consecutive readings -- or averaging your blood pressures as logged over a period of time -- can give you a better picture of your cardiovascular health than single, isolated measurements.
  • Multiple user accounts. This enables two people to use the blood pressure monitor to record their readings, or one person can log readings for the right arm and left arm separately.

Know before you go

  • Do you plan to travel with your blood pressure monitor? If so, choose one that comes with a carrying case or pouch, and that can be operated off either battery power or with an AC adapter.
  • Is your blood pressure monitor properly calibrated? Experts recommend taking it to your healthcare provider when you first buy it, then about every six months thereafter, to be tested against medical-standard equipment. Have the unit checked immediately if you drop it or if your readings suddenly change dramatically.
  • Is more than one person going to use the cuff? If so, you must either purchase a monitor with multiple user accounts -- so you can each store your readings separately -- or buy one that doesn't automatically store readings, so you don't end up with your blood pressure logs mingled together.
  • Are you and your doctor wired in? Some blood pressure monitors allow you to upload the readings directly to your doctor. If neither you nor your doctor make use of such capability, you can save some money by buying a simpler unit.

What's to come

Blood pressure cuffs that transmit data directly to an app on your smart phone are becoming increasingly common; the Withings blood pressure monitor (which docks with your iPod or iPhone) and the wireless iHealth BP5 are two of the most popular. Two years ago these were novel, new technology; now they're becoming more established, with all the data-collecting -- and sharing -- capabilities you'd expect from a smartphone app and excellent accuracy scores to boot.

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