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. Home blood pressure monitors with Bluetooth capability also give you the option of reading your results off your smartphone's screen, or having it read the results to you.
- 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 your blood pressure 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.
- The right amount of pressure. There's no getting around a brief squeeze from the cuff of your blood pressure monitor, but the best models use relatively gentle pressure to avoid turning a simple reading into a painful ordeal.
- Ample memory. The best blood pressure monitors store at least 90 readings in memory -- enough to log three months of daily blood pressure measurements.
- Multiple user accounts. If several people are using the same blood pressure monitor, they each need their own account for logging readings and calculating averages. Some also use this feature to log readings for their right arm and left arm separately.
- Helpful feedback. Some blood pressure cuffs use color-coded results or flashing numbers to indicate whether your readings fall into healthy, borderline, or unhealthy ranges. This makes it easier to put your blood pressure into context at a glance.
- 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.
- Help with proper positioning. Wrist blood pressure monitors only return accurate readings if you hold them in just the right position, and learning to do that can be a challenge. The best wrist monitors use flashing lights or other feedback devices to help guide your hand into the proper position.
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 with either battery power or an AC adapter.
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? A growing number of blood pressure monitors allow you to upload your log of 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.
Useful tips for owning a blood pressure monitor
Experts recommend taking your home blood pressure monitor to your healthcare provider when you first buy it, so your healthcare provider can test the monitor against medical-standard equipment to determine its accuracy. Take your blood pressure cuff back in every six months to re-check its accuracy, and have it checked immediately if you drop it or if your readings suddenly change dramatically.
If you have trouble getting accurate readings at home, have the doctor check your technique in using the blood pressure monitor on yourself, and follow the American Heart Association's recommendations for home blood pressure monitoring, which include not smoking, consuming caffeinated drinks or exercising within 30 minutes of taking the measurement. Ideally, you should sit and rest quietly for at least 5 minutes before you take the measurements.
What's to come
Blood pressure cuffs that transmit data directly to an app on your smart phone are becoming increasingly common. Just a few short years ago this was novel, new technology, but it's now on the verge of becoming a standard feature on high-end blood pressure cuffs, and, as with most wireless technology, will probably soon be the norm at all price points.