With doctors' visits down during the COVID-19 pandemic, experts say keeping tabs on your blood pressure at home is even more important.
Adding the do-it-yourself method can be more effective and cheaper than office measurements alone, but improved patient education, provider training and insurance coverage are needed, according to a new policy statement by the American Heart Association and American Medical Association.
"Self-monitoring blood pressure is not only convenient for patients – it is superior to in-office blood pressure measurements for predicting cardiovascular events and is potentially cost-effective," said Dr. Daichi Shimbo, associate professor of medicine at Columbia University Medical Center in New York and the statement's lead author.
Numerous blood pressure guidelines endorse measuring your blood pressure outside a medical office, usually at home. Experts say the method can prevent "white coat hypertension," meaning you have higher blood pressure only at the doctor's office, or "masked hypertension," where your pressure gives a false normal reading at the office.
High blood pressure occurs when the force of blood flowing through vessels is consistently too high. It's considered high when systolic pressure (the top number in a blood pressure measurement) is 130 millimeters of mercury or above or the diastolic (bottom number) is 80 or above.
Of the millions of Americans with high blood pressure, just over half have it under control, and many cases go undiagnosed. And almost 60% of Black Americans have the deadly condition, more than any other racial and ethnic group.
The policy statement reviews how self-monitoring could help diagnose and manage high blood pressure, improving its control in low-income and medically under-resourced communities. Savings could come from reduced office visits, fewer cardiovascular events as a result of improved blood pressure control and less overtreatment in patients with white coat hypertension, according to the statement.
Self-measured blood pressure is a focus area of Target: BP, an AHA initiative that helps health care organizations improve blood pressure control rates through an evidence-based program.