9 Surprising Factors You Didn’t Know Were Affecting Your Blood Pressure Reading

Updated: Sep. 16, 2020

Are your blood pressure readings higher (or lower) than usual? This might be why.

Nurse measuring blood pressure
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The way you sit

Next time the nurse tells you to hop up on the exam table so they can take your blood pressure, don’t. “When you’re sitting like that with your feet dangling, you’re almost between sitting and standing. This can affect your reading because your blood pressure is different when you’re standing versus lying down,” says Nieca Goldberg, MD, medical director of the Joan H. Tisch Center for Women’s Health at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City. The proper position is seated in a chair with your back flat against the chair back and your feet flat on the floor (no crossing allowed!). Any good doctor should accept your request to sit in a chair instead of atop a crinkly exam table, she says.

Cropped Hand Of Person With Blood Pressure Gauge On Wooden Table
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How you hold your arm

If your arm isn’t supported, blood pressure readings can get messed up. “Your arm should be flat on a table or supported by the person taking your pressure, it shouldn’t just be hanging in the air,” says Dr. Goldberg. If your arm is too high or low, it can affect how hard your heart has to pump to keep blood flowing, which then affects your blood pressure.

public restroom signs
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Your bathroom schedule

“Empty your bladder right before your exam,” says Dr. Goldberg. “A full bladder might raise your blood pressure.” These are more things doctors may not tell you about healthy blood pressure.

Portrait of young man with baseball cap smoking cigarette
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Smoking is never good for your blood pressure readings, especially right before a doctor’s appointment. “Smoking can raise your reading because it causes spasms of the arteries,” says Dr. Goldberg. Ready to quit?

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Your dinner the night before

“Eating a salty meal the day or night before can temporarily lead to an elevated reading,” says Dr. Goldberg. You should also be mindful of what you eat on the day of the exam; stick to a healthy, balanced diet with plenty of whole grains, lean protein, and fruits and veggies. Check out these other easy ways to lower the top blood pressure number. You’re welcome.

close up of doctor taking patient's blood pressure
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The blood pressure cuff

When it comes to the cuff, you are Goldilocks and it has to fit just right. If it’s too loose, you could get falsely low blood pressure readings; if it’s too tight, your reading might be inaccurately higher. “If the cuff feels too tight before it’s blown up, you know it’s too tight. If it’s falling off, you know it’s too big,” says Dr. Goldberg. Check out these expert-approved blood pressure monitors for at-home use.

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Your commute

A stressful trip to the doctor can throw your blood pressure reading way off once you actually get there. If traffic or crowded subways got your heart racing, ask to rest for five minutes before handing over your arm. “I usually let my patients rest for a few minutes so they can get their blood pressure to a more normal level. My assistant even shuts off the light,” Dr. Goldberg says. And if you’re looking to improve your blood pressure after you got your results, here are 31 things you can do right now to avoid high blood pressure.

Senior Man Drinking Water
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How hydrated you are

Dehydration can lower your blood pressure readings, so be sure to drink plenty of fluids the day before and day of (and every other day, too). “It’s important we get an accurate assessment so we aren’t over-treating or under-treating people,” says Dr. Goldberg.

doctor checking man's blood pressure
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Your small talk

Don’t be rude, but if the person taking your blood pressure tries to make small talk, politely ask them to wait until after the reading. “Talking can raise your blood pressure, so just chill out,” says Dr. Goldberg. Make sure you know the foods you should be eating to help to lower blood pressure naturally.