What’s Your Blood Pressure? (You Can’t Always Trust The Numbers On Blood Pressure Machines)

by Lynnette

Blood Pressure, Diabetes, Health Scares, Heart Issues

blood-pressure-monitor-by-joey-parsons.jpg Blood pressure numbers? What’s the big deal?

It doesn’t really matter that much because your numbers are always going to be different.


That pretty much summarizes my take on the whole blood pressure monitoring thing lately.

Even the professionals seem to get a (vastly!) different reading on my blood pressure each time — no matter what time of the day, or where I’m having it done. I just don’t get it. Truthfully, I’m not sure they do either.

If you too, are concerned (and just as confused) about your blood pressure readings, then read on…

For the record, here’s what the blood pressure numbers mean:

Normal: < 120 and < 80Prehypertension Stage 1: 120-139 or 80-89Hypertension Stage 2: 140-159 or 90-99Hypertension: >160 or >100

First, My Personal Blood Pressure Story

My doctor (whom I adore and would highly recommend to anyone) gave me the bad news a couple weeks ago: “I’ve seen you 4 times in 3 years now, and each time your blood pressure was high. I think you’re going to have to be on medication.”

I begged him to let me try to drop it a bit myself (“Step away from the salt shaker, Lynnette!”), and in a couple months if it’s not better, then I’ll reluctantly agree to whatever medication he prescribes. (I happen to believe that we live in an over-medicated society. Not that my doctor is prescription-happy though. He’s far from it.)

I promised that I’d refrain from added salt, work at shedding a few pounds, and lessen my intake of diet sodas …which, at 35mg per can, I thought added up to a lot.

That is, until I was eating my “healthy” salad from McDonald’s the other day, and I realized that the Newman’s Own All-Natural French Salad Dressing they gave me has a whopping 450 mg of sodium per packet! What’s “all natural” about that?!?

Anyway, Doc agreed to let me try to self-regulate my blood pressure and get it back into an acceptable range. Then, if a few months from now, my blood pressure’s not in the “normal” range… I’m on meds. (Which I fear I’d be on for the rest of my life, but he assures me that I wouldn’t be.)

Okay, then. Done.

One week down, and I’m starting to consciously think about eating healthier, drinking more water, doing some yoga moves again, and walking fast — as in for exercise. (Not like this guy).

Next week, I’m getting really serious about it! No, I mean it.

Sustained high blood pressure — above 140/90 mm Hg, according to most experts — is called hypertension. About 90% of all people with high blood pressure have “essential” hypertension — meaning that it has no identifiable cause. In the remaining 10% of cases, the elevated blood pressure is due to kidney disease, diabetes, or another underlying disorder.  Source

But here’s where things get squirrelly…


Different Numbers From Different Offices

checking-blood-pressure.gifMy doctor has consistently gotten “borderline high” (actually pre-hypertension phase) numbers every time he takes my blood pressure. With him, it’s always in the 140-to-158 over 90-to-92 range.

However, I’ve been to the chiropractor a fair number of times over the past few years as well, and they have consistently clocked me in the “normal” range. (Almost always 120/80, give or take one or two points either way.) They even do bi-lateral — right arm, then left arm — readings to verify the accuracy!

And for some reason, my dentist’s office has begun taking the blood pressure of their patients prior to any dental work — and since I recently decided to have all my silver fillings switched out with white ones (which subsequently resulted in 2 crowns and 1 root canal!), I’ve had my fair share of blood pressure readings there.

The funny part: each time, my numbers at the dentist have been in the “normal to low” range! (Always vastly different numbers… but they’ve assured me each time that it was “normal”. The last time was 94/51.)

…Except for that one time they realized they hadn’t checked my blood pressure before my “one crown and two fillings” appointment, so they rushed and did it real quick — after they had already given me 5 shots to numb my mouth! I could feel the epinephrine whirling through my body at the moment, and I charted something insane on the blood pressure scale that day!

Case in point… My doctor’s reading: 150/90 – taken at NOON on 3/20/06 My chiropractor’s reading: 124/80 left; 120/78 right – taken at 2PM on the same day

By the way, each of the 3 doctor’s offices mentioned above uses the cuff & stethoscope method for measuring blood pressure.


So, Why All The Discrepancy?

Okay, so I completely understand that there will be a degree of variance, given that these readings were all taken at different times of the day, by different people, and would be reflective of any anxiety that I might have been experiencing for whatever I was being “treated” for at the time.

However, should they be SO different from one another? In my (non-doctor) opinion, I would tend to think that these were the readings of 3 completely different people!

My doctor says the reason you’re likely to get different readings at different places is because everyone takes your blood pressure differently.

He explained (paraphrased):

If the doctor is not monitoring your reading during the entire time when the cuff starts to deflate until it is fully deflated, and instead they’re just putting on the cuff, then pumping it up with air, then releasing, grabbing a number & moving on, then that’s not an accurate reading.

I’ll admit… sometimes that’s what some offices have done, but that was definitely the exception, rather than the rule. Still, I’ve never gotten a high blood pressure reading other than at my doctor’s office. And it doesn’t matter who is doing the measuring there either — it’s always been “high” at that particular doctor’s office. By the way, I adore that doctor, and I’m always comfortably calm in his presence.


What About Those BP Machines In Stores & Pharmacies?

I asked the doctor and Jim asked the pharmacist what they thought of the accuracy of blood pressure machines found in grocery stores, department stores, and pharmacies.

We got completely opposite opinions!

Doc says, believe it or not, they are relatively accurate. He recommends that his patients use them on a regular basis to monitor their blood pressure.

The pharmacist, on the other hand, says those machines are not serviced regularly. And, since they pretty much just sit there getting used & abused without any type of maintenance — year after year — they should not be regarded as accurate.

So, how do ya like them apples?

I would tend to trust the pharmacist’s opinion on this one — at least for the one particular store that she’s at.


In Summary

taking-blood-pressure-by-HazPhotos.jpgI said all this to say…Educate yourself people! (Self included.)

And don’t trust the one or two sets of numbers you receive.

Perhaps those of us with borderline blood pressure readings should invest in our own home monitors. But then again, how do you know those are accurate?!?!

How in the world can we assure that any given blood pressure reading is truly accurate?

Can it be blamed on human error and how the blood pressure readings are gathered?

Or is it an issue with standardization of the equipment? Is there no way to calibrate all blood pressure equipment to assure that everyone’s measuring the same thing?


Must read: Why Your Blood Pressure Reading Is Mostly Wrong


What Are The Symptoms Of Hypertension?

There are none. Well, that’s what they say.

However, despite the fact that they say high blood pressure usually has no symptoms, I can tell you from my own experience that every time I’ve thought I had a fever (yet I otherwise felt fine), it was a day that I had a high blood pressure reading.

Similarly, when I have that “feverish” feeling (forehead feels warm, face feels flushed, despite the fact that I’m chilly on the outside), I’ve also noticed that my eyes feel different as well. Actually, my eyeballs feel like they’re burning up, or maybe it’s just that the inside of my eyelids feel much cooler as they’re closing down on my eyeballs. How’s that for the world’s wackiest symptom?!

Ah well, there may in fact be other symptoms of hypertension and high blood pressure.

Live and learn. (Literally.)


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