The One Question You Must Ask at Your Next Doctor's Visit

"My blood pressure just dropped 30 points."

Amanda was testing out a wrist-cuff blood-pressure monitor her folks had purchased. First, she kept her wrist on her lap and talked during the test. Her reading was well into the 140s.

At that point, many of us would already worry that we have high blood pressure.

But Amanda knew that reading was unusually high for her. So she waited five minutes and retested, this time with her wrist held over her heart and staying completely silent.

It dropped more than 30 points.

That discrepancy means the difference between a high blood-pressure diagnosis and normal readings. In a doctor's office, it's also the difference between getting a prescription or not. It's also why at your next visit, you must ask your doctor, "Can you retake my blood pressure at the end of my visit?"

Longtime readers know I advocate monitoring your own blood pressure. That's because high blood pressure increases your risk for kidney failure, memory loss, and more. Worse, it's the leading cause of stroke in the U.S.

In a previous issue, we mentioned three steps to lower your blood pressure without pills. These include adding heart-healthy foods to your diet, cutting back on caffeine, and getting plenty of exercise and stress relief.

But today we want to advise you on three other tips to add to your blood-pressure monitoring...

1. Measure twice. That stress at the doctor's office that leads to higher readings has a name: "white-coat syndrome." But there's new evidence for repeated blood-pressure readings.

A study out of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland found that taking two measurements during an office visit – one at the beginning and one at the end – saw a median drop of 8 mm Hg in systolic pressure (that's the top number in a blood pressure reading). That means someone with a reading of 140 could drop to 132.

What's more, the higher the initial reading, the larger the drop at the second reading. This stresses the importance of monitoring at different times to get a better picture of what your body is really doing. In fact, don't let the doc write you prescription based on that initial reading.

2. Monitor at home... with the correct equipment. As we've discussed before, home monitoring is essential for keeping track of your blood pressure. Keeping track of your pressure as it changes due to diet, exercise, and stress levels can help you figure out where to work on improving your daily lifestyle.

But be sure to get a decent blood-pressure monitor that measures around your upper arm, not your wrist. Wrist monitors only work well for a few folks – for instance, if you can't fit a cuff around your upper arm or if you've had surgery for breast cancer. But overall, wrist measurements are much higher and inaccurate – as my researcher experienced firsthand. In fact, the American Heart Association does not recommend wrist cuff monitors at all.

When you measure, be sure to use a validated arm-cuff style monitor. Do it on bare skin for accuracy. Stay quiet and relaxed as you sit with feet uncrossed. You should also check your blood-pressure monitor from time to time – a good plan is to take it with you to the doctor and check it against their equipment.

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3. Listen to music. A new study from Brazil showed that music increases the efficacy of blood-pressure medications. They had folks take their blood-pressure medication and either listen to music or silence for an hour afterward. Those who listened to music had lower heart rates and lower pressure readings. The idea is that music increases how well we absorb medication.

But there's another key to this... Music alone, without drugs, also lowers blood pressure. Plus, it depends on the music.

A study from the journal Heart in 2015 demonstrated that slower-tempo music lowered blood pressure in listeners. Fast-paced music had the opposite effect. What's more, further studies have seen music trigger the autonomic nervous system, which controls things like heart rate and pressure along with digestion (and therefore, drug absorption). So, putting on some relaxing, slow music during the day will add another level of blood-pressure control.

Keeping these three tips in mind will help you better monitor your blood pressure. Don't forget to record your readings along with your mental state, if you recently exercised, and how long it's been after a meal.

What We're Reading...

Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
April 24, 2018