On a recent visit to see my mom, we had a reminder about the importance of regularly checking blood-pressure levels. She's already on medication for the condition, but her hairdresser noticed her ankles were swollen and suggested we get her levels checked. Good thing: They were unusually high, indicating stage 2 hypertension, which could trigger a heart attack, stroke, or kidney problems.
The American Heart Association says that people with hypertension should routinely check their levels themselves. A home blood-pressure monitor lets you keep tabs on your numbers and make sure your medicine is doing what it's supposed to do. Our medical experts say people with high blood pressure should check their levels at least twice a week at about the same time of day, and as often as twice a day if there are any problems or if your treatment has changed.
So I checked out Consumer Reports' Ratings of home blood-pressure monitors, which you can pick up at most drugstores for $30 to $130. I ordered one of our top-rated models online, as well as a book about the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension). I also showed her Consumer Reports' information about how to lower your blood pressure, which talks about the power of lifestyle changes in getting your numbers down, including losing excess weight and walking briskly at least 30 minutes a day.
Taking the right medication is also important (see our Best Buy Drugs report on blood pressure medicine).My mom went to see her doctor the next day, and he increased the dose of the beta blocker she was taking and added two other blood-pressure drugs--a new ACE inhibitor and a new diuretic.
She now takes her blood pressure reading with her new machine every day, jotting the numbers down in her notebook, and walks for half an hour first thing in the morning. She also has been cooking up more vegetarian dishes for herself and my dad. She took her daily readings to her doctor on her last visit, and they were down appreciably. They're high to normal, but nowhere near the scare we had earlier.