The Benefits of Home Blood-Pressure Tests

The American Heart Association and others suggest home blood-pressure monitors.

ByABC News
January 8, 2009, 12:25 AM

May 22, 2008— -- It's a familiar ritual: Every time you go to the doctor's office, a nurse wraps a blood pressure cuff around your arm. You sit there quietly while the cuff inflates, and the nurse writes down your blood pressure.

But can you rely on that number? According to a statement released today by three major health organizations, maybe not. It turns out that measures you take at home, using a simple home monitor, may give a better idea of your risk for heart disease and stroke.

The new statement, released jointly by the American Heart Association, the American Society of Hypertension and the Preventive Cardiovascular Nurses Association, recommends that home blood pressure monitoring be used in most patients who have high blood pressure. The statement was created to help improve the treatment of high blood pressure, both in the United States and worldwide.

High blood pressure is "a major public health problem, and an important cause of heart attack, stroke, kidney failure and heart failure," said paper co-author Dr. David Goff, professor of public health sciences and internal medicine at Wake Forest University.

"In the U.S., only about a third of people with high blood pressure have it under control," he said. "Clearly, having people come to the doctor's office and have their blood pressure checked and treated isn't working."

No matter how good your nurse or doctor is, there's a difference between home blood pressure and blood pressure during a check-up. For one thing, if your doctor is listening through a stethoscope, outside noises can interfere. And the sounds he or she is listening for may be too soft to make out properly. Even electronic measurements can go awry at times.

Perhaps even more important, your body may be reacting to the stress of a doctor's appointment. As many as 20 percent of patients have something called "white coat hypertension." Some of these patients have high blood pressure only when they're in the doctor's office. At home, their blood pressure is normal. Without home monitoring, many of those people may wind up on blood pressure medicine that they don't need.