Wrist vs. Arm Blood Pressure Monitors

Female patient using wrist blood pressure monitor

Blood pressure monitors allow patients to keep track of their blood pressure measurements while at home, rather than relying only on doctor visits. But not all blood pressure monitors are created equal. Read on to discover how they work and whether patients should use an arm or wrist blood pressure monitor.

What Is a Blood Pressure Monitor?

We’re all familiar with the squeezing sensation from a blood pressure cuff during an annual physical or doctor visit. But patients with chronic blood pressure issues need to have it measured more than once or twice a year, and that’s where blood pressure monitors come in. Blood pressure monitors allow patients to take their blood pressure at home, without the assistance of a nurse or other medical professional. They feature a digital screen that gives a readout of your systolic and diastolic blood pressure, as well as your pulse per minute. The screen either attaches to the armband via a tube or can be strapped directly to the wrist. As a healthcare provider, it seems pretty straight forward. However, patients will need additional instructions to get an accurate reading at home..

Doctor monitoring patient blood pressure with stethoscope and blood pressure cuff

How Do You Use a Blood Pressure Monitor?

Patients should avoid smoking, exercising and drinking caffeine for at least 30 minutes before they take their measurements, as these activities can all increase heart rate and affect blood pressure. They should sit quietly for at least five minutes before using the blood pressure device. Patients should sit straight up on a chair with good back support, with their upper arm at heart level and their hand supported (not lifted in the air). They should sit with their legs uncrossed and their feet flat on the floor.

Patients should take their blood pressure measurements at the same time of day each time. They should also take a few readings one minute apart and look at the results to get an average. If their blood pressure suddenly spikes during one reading, they should wait five minutes and try again. At-home machines aren’t as accurate as the ones that doctors and nurses use, so one high reading is not necessarily an indication of an emergency.

Nurse uses wrist blood pressure monitor

While patients do not need a prescription in order to buy a blood pressure monitor, encourage them to bring it into the office on their next visit so you can test the model they choose against your clinical-quality sphygmomanometer. This will give you and the patient a good idea of how accurate the at-home model readings are.

Should You Use an Arm or Wrist Blood Pressure Monitor?

Patients may have questions for you about which model of blood pressure monitor they should buy. (You can also encourage them to reach out to a doctor or pharmacist for additional advice.) Many patients are drawn to wrist blood pressure monitors because of their convenient size and portability. However, wrist blood pressure monitors deliver less reliable readings, which is why the American Heart Association recommends an automatic, cuff-style, bicep (upper-arm) monitor.

Are Wrist Blood Pressure Monitors Accurate?

Wrist monitors are less accurate than arm monitors because the arteries in your wrist are narrower and closer to your skin as compared to your upper arm, which tends to result in higher and more volatile blood pressure readings. Wrist monitors are also very responsive to body positions, and your hands tend to move around more than your upper arms. Plus, it’s more difficult to raise and maintain your hands at the level of your heart vs. your upper arm.

Arm blood pressure monitor on patient

That being said, some people find it uncomfortable and even painful to get their blood pressure measured at their bicep, especially if they have a large arm. In these cases, a wrist monitor might be a better choice.

Get an Accurate Blood Pressure Reading With AllHeart

No matter what style of blood pressure monitor the patient chooses, strongly recommend that they bring it into the office so that you can measure its reliability. This will also give you a chance to ensure that the patient is using the device correctly and to discuss any questions that they have. If the patient is a senior or a child–or pregnant–make sure that the model they choose has been validated in these conditions.

Now you know how to help patients choose the right blood pressure monitor and validate their reliability. And if you’re shopping for yourself, AllHeart offers a wide range of blood pressure devices, from digital at-home models to traditional manual sphygmomanometers. We also have medical guides on the different types of stethoscopes to help you make an informed decision before purchasing!