Q: Are home blood pressure monitors reliable? - K.E., Appling
A: According to a recent report by the National Council on the Aging, nearly one-half of American adults older than 50 are unaware of their blood pressure. This type of ignorance is certainly not bliss, as it raises the risk for undetected and untreated high blood pressure, or hypertension.
The council's director of survey research, Dr. Neal E. Cutler, said the findings indicate a "critical lack of knowledge among older Americans about the condition's deadly potential."
Hypertension is not caused by stress, as thought by 46 percent of the participants in the council's survey. Instead, it may be caused by a variety of factors, including obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, poor dietary choices and smoking. Not getting enough rest, getting angry often and a high intake of caffeine can also produce high blood pressure readings.
Uncontrollable factors that influence blood pressure include gender, age, and family history. Left untreated, blood pressure can result in an increased risk of heart attack, stroke and kidney failure.
High blood pressure has no outward symptoms and is only detected through routine checks. Adults should have their blood pressure checked at least once a year. For most people, a blood pressure reading above 140/90 is considered high. If you find that your blood pressure is elevated at your checkup, take several other readings to determine if perhaps your body was reacting to a particular time of day or other external event such as pain or stress.
As our society becomes more technologically advanced, people are able to perform many self-checks at home rather than going to the doctor's office. One of the ways to check blood pressure on a regular basis is to purchase a home blood pressure monitoring device.
According to a study published in the Southern Medical Journal in 1997, 66 percent of patients who use the home blood pressure monitors obtained accurate results. The study suggests that caution should be used when using the devices, especially if the machine is an older model or if it has had to be serviced regularly.
Choose a model that is easy to use and fits your budget. A higher price does not necessarily mean higher quality. Rather, evaluate products for such features as a warranty.
Even if you use a home blood pressure monitor, remember to keep regular appointments with your physician, who can provide you with the most accurate blood pressure measurements available.
Free blood pressure screenings also are available at various locations throughout the city. If you would like to know where and when these screenings are available, please call me at the Resource Center on Aging, 733-7262.
If you have high blood pressure, your doctor may prescribe lifestyle changes such as dietary changes and increased activity. A lower salt intake and moderate exercise may help reduce blood pressure levels. If your blood pressure does not respond to these changes, your physician may prescribe medication to keep your levels in check.
If you have a question or would like additional information, write to Shirley McIntosh, Resource Center on Aging, 2803 Wrightsboro Road, Suite 51, Augusta, GA 30909.