Most people with high blood pressure do not notice any warning symptoms or signs when their blood pressure starts to rise. This can happen even if you are on medication – either because you are more stressed than normal, have exercised less, or changed your diet and lifestyle in other ways.
Hypertension can also rise as a result of the natural progression of the condition – even though you’ve made no obvious changes to your usual routine.
When blood pressure is checked by your doctor, it is often higher than normal as a result of the so-called White Coat effect. It’s therefore a good idea to monitor your blood pressure at home with one of the many excellent home-monitors that are now available.
You don’t need to be obsessive about it. If your blood pressure is at your goal level (for example below 135/85mmHg) then checking it weekly – or even monthly, at around the same time of day, will let you see whether or not it is slowly increasing.
If your blood pressure is above your goal level, however, then taking two, three or even four readings over the course of a few days will help you see how it fluctuates during your waking hours. Take your blood pressure after you have sat quietly for ten to 15 minutes, and at least one hour after having a caffeinated drink or used nicotine (both of which can cause blood pressure to rise).
Jot down your readings and, if your blood pressure is consistently above your goal level, make an appointment to see your doctor. You may need your medication changed.
Self-monitoring helps you take control
An interesting study assessed the benefits of using a home blood pressure monitor in a group of 53 people with essential hypertension who were newly starting on medication (in this case, an angiotensin II receptor antagonist called olmesartan). The volunteers were asked to measure their blood pressure at least twice a day (morning and evening) during the first nine weeks of treatment.
When the monitors were checked to see how often they had actually been used, people who followed the instructions faithfully saw significant reductions in their overall blood pressure compared with those who took their readings less often. Those who measured their blood pressure twice, every single day, saw their blood pressure come down by an average of 16.6/8.0 mmHg. In those who only checked their blood pressure once a day, for just three out of four days on average, the equivalent reduction in blood pressure was just 0.2/3.3 mmHg!
This suggests that self-monitoring, twice a day, can improve how well you respond to your antihypertensive treatment. It could reflect the fact that people who are good at following instructions are more likely to take their medicine every day, as prescribed. Another possibility is that twice daily monitoring really focusses your mind on your goal, so you are more likely to remember to take your tablets and stick to a healthy diet and lifestyle.
I am a firm believer in ‘mind over matter’, however, and it is entirely possible that people who sat down quietly, twice a day, to take their blood pressure, were more able to relax, tune in to their body and help lower their blood pressure using the power of thought to achieve their goal.
Whichever explanation you prefer to believe, self-monitoring will help you achieve your blood pressure goals.
Click here for advice on choosing a blood pressure monitor to use at home.
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