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Why You Should Advocate For A Plus Size Blood Pressure Cuff

Are you plus size with a larger upper arm? You might need a plus size blood pressure cuff when your blood pressure is monitored.

Using the wrong size blood pressure cuff can result in an incorrect high blood pressure diagnosis!

Advocating for yourself in a healthcare setting isn't easy, but it's critical. We have tips to help!

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Plus Size Blood Pressure Cuff

Plus Size Blood Pressure Cuff

I recently did something so silly I can’t believe I’m about to share it with you. I went to the doctor’s office and had my blood pressure taken (this wasn’t the silly part, stay with me).

It was high.

For the first time ever!

It wasn’t even high when I was pregnant.

I addressed my concerns with my new doctor and she said, “I never get too worried when it’s the first appointment with a new patient.”

Yet, I was truly concerned.

Later that evening, as I was trying to fall asleep, I jolted up! ‘Jennifer McLellan!!’ (yes, I yelled at myself with my full name).

At that moment I realized I neglected to do something I tell everyone to do.

Literally, I’ve stood on a stage and told 200 birth professionals about this very thing, and yet I didn’t do it myself.

Always make sure a large blood pressure cuff is used on a person with big arms (most often an adult large or adult thigh cuff )!!!

When the wrong size blood pressure cuff is used, you get an inaccurate reading. You get high blood pressure!

I was in my doctor’s office a few weeks later for a follow-up appointment.

A large cuff was used, and I had (you guessed it) normal blood pressure.

I made a stink about it mainly because I didn’t want the words “high blood pressure” in my medical record.

My doctor reiterated how she wasn’t concerned. But I asked her to please make a note about the wrong size cuff being used.

She did just that, probably because she could tell I was actually about to get high blood pressure over this incident.

I also asked her to please speak with her nurse about the importance of using the proper cuff with plus size patients.

I share my embarrassing story with you because it’s an important lesson; even trained patient advocates can fail at advocating for themselves.

How To Know If You Need A Plus Size Blood Pressure Cuff

Many people can tell right away if their arm is uncomfortably squshed before having their blood pressure taken. Or if the velcro doesn't reach around to tighten the cuff.

To ensure the correct size cuff is selected, you can go by the chart below after measuring your arm.

Please note that blood pressure cuffs come in various sizes, and the chart below only shows averages.

Arm CircumferenceCuff Size
8.7″ – 10.2″Small Adult
10.6″ – 13.4″Adult
13.8″ – 17.3″Large Adult
17.7″ – 23.6″Extra-Large Adult/Adult Thigh Cuff

Plus Size Blood Pressure Cuffs

If you're a homebirth midwife supporting people with a high BMI, it's critical you have different size cuffs! Also, some people take their blood pressure at home, so below are monitor an cuff options.

Plus Size Blood Pressure Cuff

Blood Pressure Monitor & Plus Size Blood Pressure Cuff

Tips For Getting Your Blood Pressure Monitored When You Are Plus Size

Before sharing these tips for self-advocacy, you might also want to learn the correct way to have your blood pressure taken. Many people get rushed into the exam room, and out comes the cuff.

However, you should be seated for at least five minutes with your feet firmly on the floor.

While wrist monitors are becoming more popular, they aren't as accurate, so ask for an arm reading.

If you're feeling extremely anxious or experiencing white coat syndrome, you can ask to wait to have your blood pressure monitored. Or advocate for another reading near the end of your appointment.

Below are suggestions to help make sure you get the care you deserve at your doctor’s appointments.

  1. Bring a loved one or trusted friend along. It’s always helpful to have someone on your side or someone you can simply look at for a reassuring smile when stressed. Plus, an extra set of eyes can help make sure the proper equipment is used.
  2. Write down things that are important to you and bring a list to your appointment. I can’t tell you how many times my husband goes to the doctor and I ask him if he talked to his care provider about XYZ. His answer is often, “I forgot.”  I’m about to make him a list myself!
  3. Set a reminder on your phone! 5 minutes before your scheduled appointment time, have a reminder pop up with a note listing anything that’s important for your upcoming appointment. We often spend quite a bit of time in the waiting room so this will give you a few minutes (at least) to review what you’d like to address with your care provider.

See even more tips – Doctor Appointments When You Are Fearful Of Fat-Shaming

I hope my story stays with you and helps you to become your own best health care advocate.

From blood pressure cuffs to respectful bedside manner, you deserve compassionate and excellent healthcare.

Jen McLellan, CBE
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Joy Jones

Wednesday 9th of June 2021

I have used this information from you for many, many years, as I pass information on to pregnant mothers.

I would like to add, that I have frequently found, and have frequently heard from pregnant mothers, that the BP cuffs labeled "Large" are neither longer nor wider than those that are marked "Regular", or else they are only longer, and not wider at all -- which in my opinion, would not help with the accuracy of the BP reading at all.

Plus Size Birth

Friday 12th of November 2021

@Joy Jones, thanks so much for your support and this input!