Self-monitoring blood pressure and heart rate is an important factor in monitoring multiple aspects of your health. It’s even more important if you have a chronic illness that affects either of these values or if you already have high or low blood pressure. Even training athletes can benefit from self-monitoring their vital signs.
As someone with POTS, monitoring my blood pressure and heart rate is crucial to managing my condition. It helps me track hydration, how well my medication is working, when I need to eat more salt, how hard to push myself while exercising, and when I could be heading into a flare-up. It has been an invaluable tool in learning about how my body reacts with my condition. I’ve grown better at recognizing signs when it needs help and implementing solutions to feel better!
The truth is, monitoring heart rates and blood pressures are like secret windows into what’s happening inside our bodies. From there, we can make a plan of action on how to best manage our chronic conditions and our health overall.
But there are some things you should know first to ace self-monitoring. So here are nine tips for monitoring heart rate and blood pressure at home and how doing so is a vital step you shouldn’t skip in your health management plan.
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1. Purchase Monitors to Use at Home
First things first! You can’t self-monitor blood pressure and heart rate if you don’t have the proper tools to do so! Purchasing quality monitors is a worthwhile investment in your health. It allows you to record your data, take it to your doctor, and develop a plan for making adjustments to your lifestyle accordingly.
For blood pressure monitoring, I use an Omron 7 Series Wrist Blood Pressure Monitor because my arms are small. This wrist monitor fits better, so it’s much easier for me to use. Plus, I love the convenience of its size; it’s not clunky, which makes it perfect for traveling or storing in a small space. It also records up to 100 readings, along with the date and time of measurement, making it easier than ever to keep track of blood pressure. Before discovering this, however, I used this upper arm blood pressure monitor. It gets the job done accurately and is easy to use, for those of you that prefer an arm cuff.
As for monitoring heart rate, there are plenty of options out there to accomplish this! I’ve used both Fitbit and Garmin smartwatches. For everyday use, I’d recommend getting a Fitbit, like the Fitbit Sense. If you’re more of an exercise enthusiast, I think Garmin watches, like the Garmin Vivoactive 4s, are a better option. Now, my heart rate is monitored 24/7 while I exercise, sleep, eat, work, dance in my kitchen, and drink too much coffee—you get the idea.
For running, I also use a Polar H10 Heart Rate Sensor—which syncs data to my phone—to get the most accurate reading. With POTS, monitoring my heart rate while running is crucial because it’s vulnerable to spiking very high. I love this chest strap monitor. I fully trust its accuracy to wear while running and to guide my training. It may not be the most comfortable thing to wear all the time (hence why I wear a watch for everyday use), but its high level of real-time precision has me hook, line, and sinker. I’ll never run without wearing a chest strap again. In fact, the exercise physiologist I saw at Cleveland Clinic recommends this monitor for its precision, too.
2. Find Your Resting Heart Rate in the A.M.
Your resting heart rate is the most accurate first thing in the morning before you even get out of bed, so this is the time to measure it. You can check your pulse on your wrist or your neck manually. Or, if you’re like me and poke around your wrist for your pulse to no avail, wondering if you’re really even alive, a smartwatch comes in handy. Just flick your wrist, tap the screen, and voila!–there’s your heart rate. No counting (or questioning vitality) needed.
3. Note When Your Pulse is Higher or Lower Than Normal
Your heart rate is important to monitor because it gives some keen insights into your health. Watch out for any sudden changes in either your resting heart rate or your heart rate in general. A pulse anywhere between 60-100 bpm is considered normal. However, there are other factors that can affect your heart rate, such as body temperature, infection, stress, emotions, caffeine, and physical fitness.
For me, monitoring changes in my heart rate is most helpful for knowing if I’m sick, overtraining, dehydrated, or becoming more physically fit. But also, self-monitoring my pulse is what prompted me to see a doctor about persistent tachycardia while standing. It eventually led to my POTS diagnosis (nearly 3 years later!). Without my FitBit watch, I would have never documented these dramatic swings in my heart rate with positional changes, and I’d possibly still be searching for a diagnosis today. Yikes!
4. Take Your Blood Pressure Correctly
There’s a right way and there are many wrong ways to take your blood pressure. Mastering the technique is key to collecting an accurate reading.
Measure your blood pressure at the same time each day. Preferably, you should measure it once in the morning before you eat breakfast, drink caffeine, or take any medications and again in the evening. Before measuring, take a seat and relax for five minutes with your back straight and your legs uncrossed. Never measure with the blood pressure cuff over your clothes. Before hitting the start button, check that your arm is even with heart level. You may also want to take your blood pressure a second or third time after waiting a few minutes to get an average.
5. Keep a Log of Your Blood Pressure and Heart Rate
Have a designated place where you keep track of your blood pressure and any persistent unusual shifts in your heart rate. Whether that’s a journal, a spreadsheet, or a note on your phone, record all your values in one spot. This will make it easier to recognize any drastic changes. Plus, when you share your notes with your doctor, it’ll be simpler for them to read an organized compilation of values. Don’t forget to note the time of day you measured them as well!
6. Monitor Blood Pressure and Heart Rate Throughout Your Exercise Journey
We all know how beneficial exercise is for our health. You can use your resting heart rate as a measure of how physically fit you are–aka how well you’re doing with all your sweat sessions. One 2018 study found that those adapted to exercise experience lower resting heart rates. This study also found that exercise can lower blood pressure over time, among other benefits. Exercise additionally increases blood pressure temporarily, which is why it’s a great tool for helping POTS patients who are symptomatic due to low blood pressure (me!).
Monitoring heart rate after exercise can be useful as well. If you find that your resting heart rate is higher than normal it could be a sign that you’re overtraining. This means that your body needs more time to recover. You should take a rest day or perform a low intensity recovery workout until your resting heart rate returns to normal.
I know if I’ve overdone it when my heart rate stays slightly elevated directly after exercise. I think this is a POTS thing related to adrenaline, so I can’t say whether or not other people experience this too. But there’s no worse feeling; it feels like I’m still exercising even though I’m most likely plopped on the couch, gripping a bottle of Gatorade. As annoying as it may be, it’s actually helpful. It tells me I need to take it easier for 1-2 days afterward to avoid injury or a POTS flare-up.
7. Check Your Vital Signs on Hot, Humid Days
Ah, summer. Who doesn’t love all the sunshine and warmth that time of year? But with all that warmth comes the heightened risk of dehydration and heat exhaustion. When your body loses too much water, it starts to go a tad chaotic. Can you blame it? We’re mostly made of water!
Luckily, your heart rate and blood pressure can alert you to your hydration level. If your blood pressure plummets, you probably need water and electrolytes. If you have a weak, rapid pulse, guess what? You probably need water and electrolytes. Having monitors on hand (no pun intended), along with being aware of other symptoms can help you avoid severe dehydration and survive the heat!
8. Update Your Doctor With Any Concerns
It’s normal to see some temporary changes in blood pressure and/or heart rate because of the factors mentioned before. But if you consistently collect readings that don’t seem normal to you, schedule an appointment with your doctor to express your concerns. This is especially important if you start experiencing other new symptoms as well. Again, this is where having an organized log of your values is super useful.
9. Use The Data You Collect to Guide Lifestyle Changes
Self-monitoring blood pressure and heart rate also serve as an excellent learning tool for managing your health.
For example, say you feel very fatigued, and your pulse is faster than normal. Let’s also say that you find your blood pressure is low. This could be a sign that you’re dehydrated and need to chug some fluids, preferably water, asap. (And eat some salt if you have POTS.)
Or, maybe your blood pressure is too high after a night of eating chicken wings and pizza. No judgments here. I, too, enjoy a good gluten-free pizza as a cheat meal on the weekend. But, it may be a good idea to follow a low salt diet and drink lots of water until your blood pressure stabilizes.
Or say your resting heart rate is creeping a little higher than usual, and there’s been a nasty cold going around the office. You may want to take some vitamin C or a Cold Eeze lozenge to help fight it off.
See how convenient that is? You can start learning what’s going on in your body, recognizing the signs, and coming up with solutions to address any changes.
Monitoring blood pressure and heart rate is not something you should skip out on with chronic illness–especially POTS! By self-monitoring these values, you can keep a closer watch on your overall health and make effective adjustments as needed. With so many available tools out there to accomplish this, self-monitoring your vital signs at home is now easier than ever!
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