How to buy the best blood pressure monitor for you

Dear Savvy Senior: I just found out I have stage 1 hypertension and my doctor recommended I get a home blood pressure monitor to keep an eye on it. Can you offer me any tips on choosing a good one? - Hypertensive Helen

Dear Helen: It’s a smart idea. Everyone with elevated or high blood pressure (stage 1 and higher) should consider getting a home blood pressure monitor. Home monitoring can help you keep tabs on your blood pressure in a comfortable setting. Plus, if you’re taking medication it will make certain it’s working, and alert you to a health problem if it arises. Here are some tips to help you choose a good monitor.

Types of monitors

The two most popular types of home blood pressure monitors sold today are automatic arm monitors and automatic wrist monitors that are electric and/or battery powered.

With an automatic arm monitor, you simply wrap the cuff around your bicep and with the push of one button the cuff inflates and deflates automatically, giving you your blood pressure reading on the display window in a matter of seconds.

Wrist monitors work similarly, except they attach to the wrist. Wrist monitors are also smaller in weight and size, which makes them more portable and a bit more comfortable to use than the arm monitors, but they tend to be a little less accurate. To help you choose the best monitor for you, here are several things to check into:

Make sure it fits. Be sure the cuff fits the circumference of your upper arm. Using a cuff that’s the wrong size can result in an inaccurate reading. Most arm models have two sizes or an adjustable cuff that fits most people. Wrist models also fit most people.

Choose one that’s easy to use. Be sure the display on the monitor is easy to read, and that the buttons are large. The directions for applying the cuff and operating the monitor should be clear.

Consider what extra features you want. Many automatic monitors come with additional features such as irregular heartbeat detection that checks for arrhythmias and other abnormalities; a risk category indicator that tells you whether your blood pressure is in the high range; a data-averaging function that allows you to take multiple readings and get an overall average; multiple user memory that allows two or more users to save their readings; and downloadable memory that lets you transmit your data to your computer or smartphone.

Where to buy

You can find blood pressure monitors at pharmacies, medical supply stores or online, and you don’t need a prescription to buy one. Prices typically range between $40 and $100.

In most cases, original Medicare will not cover a home blood pressure monitor, but if you have a private health insurance policy it’s worth checking into, because some plans may provide coverage.

The best automatic arm monitors as recommended by Consumer Reports include the Omron Platinum BP5450 ($75), Omron Silver BP5250 ($50) and the Omron 10 Series BP7450 ($100); A&D Medical UA767F ($45); and Rite Aid Deluxe Automatic BP3AR1-4DRITE ($37). And the top wrist monitors are the Omron 7 Series BP6350 ($80); and the Equate (Walmart) 4500 Series ($40).

After you buy a monitor, it’s a good idea to take it to your doctor’s office so they can check its accuracy and teach you the proper techniques of how and when to use it.

You can also get more detailed information on how to accurately measure your blood pressure at home at – click on “Learn How to Monitor Your Blood Pressure at Home.”

Send your senior questions to Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.