Maintaining healthy blood pressure is important during (and after) the coronavirus pandemic.
With about one in three Australian adults having high blood pressure, many people will be needing to monitor their own blood pressure in isolation.
So it’s a great time to make sure you’re accurately measuring and optimally managing your blood pressure at home.
When it comes to blood pressure, home really is better
Blood pressure measurements taken at home are a better indication of your true blood pressure. They’re also a better indication of your risk of heart attack and stroke than measurements doctors take in their surgeries or in hospital.
Blood pressure readings by doctors are generally even higher than those measured by other health professionals, such as nurses.
Why we should measure our own blood pressure
This is due to the “white coat” effect, where a doctor’s presence can lead to your blood pressure (and heart rate) rising, something we’ve known about since the 1980s.
So today’s guidelines recommend doctors confirm someone has high blood pressure using methods outside the clinic.
The ideal method while in isolation is to measure your blood pressure using your own device.
How do I measure my blood pressure at home?
Your blood pressure can vary depending on whether you’re talking, exercising or under stress, or if there is a change in the temperature. It can also vary depending on your posture, whether you’ve just eaten, taken medication, drunk a coffee or smoked.
So it’s important to measure your blood pressure at home the correct way each time, otherwise your readings might be incorrect or misleading:
- use a validated device, one that has been rigorously tested for accuracy. Most devices available in Australia have not been validated. You can check if yours is here.
Use an upper arm device (not a wrist cuff or one you wear on a wristband) with a correct cuff size (within the range indicated on the cuff). If you don’t want to buy a device, you can hire or borrow one from some pharmacies and medical clinics
- take measures at around the same time, morning and evening, over seven days (five day minimum). Measure before taking medication, food or exercise, and as advised by your doctor (for instance, before visiting the doctor or after a medication change)
- don’t smoke or drink caffeine 30 minutes before measuring, and don’t measure if you’re uncomfortable, stressed or in pain
- sit quietly for five minutes before measuring, without talking or distractions from other people or television
- sit correctly, with feet flat on the floor, legs uncrossed, upper arm bare, arm supported with cuff at heart level, and back supported.
- take two measures, one minute apart
- record each measure in a paper diary or electronic spreadsheet
- provide your doctor with your readings, by email or via telehealth, such as videocalling.
What else can I do to manage my blood pressure in lockdown?
While high blood pressure is mainly caused by unhealthy environments, lifestyles and behaviours, you can modify some of these at home to lower your blood pressure, thus lowering the risk of heart disease.
A balanced diet low in salt, high in fruit, vegetables and wholegrains, as well as healthy proteins, can help control blood pressure and improve your overall heart health.
Being at home means you can prepare food from the basic ingredients, avoiding the high salt, fats and sugars found in processed foods.
Leaving the house for exercise is one of the few excuses you have available to you during lockdown.
People who regularly walk for as little as 15 minutes a day are more likely to live longer than people who are inactive. That’s irrespective of age, sex or risk of heart disease.
Still check in with your doctor
If your doctor starts you on medication to lower your blood pressure, this will lower your risk of a heart attack and stroke. So it’s important to stick with your treatment while in isolation, unless instructed to stop.
Don’t avoid a trip to your GP, or a telehealth consultation, should your blood pressure remain high.
James Sharman, Professor of Medical Research and Deputy Director, Menzies Institute for Medical Research., University of Tasmania; Mark Nelson, Head, Discipline of General Practice, University of Tasmania, and Markus Schlaich, Dobney Chair in Clinical Research and Winthrop Professor, University of Western Australia