Blood Pressure Testing and Measurement
Blood pressure testing is used to measure the force of blood being pumped through the arteries. The force is created by the heart beating.
Placement of Blood Pressure Cuff
Reasons for Test
This test is used to screen for abnormal blood pressure or to monitor your blood pressure if you already have a blood pressure problem.
High blood pressure
(hypertension) puts stress on the heart, lungs, brain, kidneys, and blood vessels. Over time, high blood pressure can damage these organs and tissues. Abnormally low blood pressure (
Blood pressure is measured at most visits to the doctor for adults and older children. It is not always measured in young children. It is often measured more frequently in people who have abnormal blood pressure, heart disease, and diseases of the lungs, brain, and kidneys. In some cases, your doctor may want you to check your blood pressure at home.
What to Expect
Prior to Test
Unless instructed otherwise, you should sit quietly for a few minutes. This ensures a more accurate reading of your resting blood pressure.
Description of Test
A soft cuff will be wrapped around your upper arm and inflated with air. The cuff will press on the large artery in your arm. When inflated, it will briefly stop the flow of blood. The air in the cuff will then be slowly released. The person taking your blood pressure will use a stethoscope to listen for the sound of blood as it begins to flow again. Sometimes the cuff will be put on your leg instead of your arm.
Two numbers will be recorded from the attached gauge. The first sound that is heard is the systolic pressure. This is the pressure when the heart is squeezing and pushing the blood forward. It will be recorded as the top number. The last sound to be heard is the diastolic pressure. This is the pressure when the heart is relaxing. It will be recorded as the bottom number of the reading. Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg).
Some blood pressure machines automatically inflate and deflate. The machine will record your blood pressure and provide you with a reading.
If the reading is part of a routine exam, in most cases you can resume your normal activities.
How Long Will It Take?
Less than a minute
Will It Hurt?
There may be some momentary squeezing pressure as the cuff inflates around your arm. A blood pressure measurement should not be painful.
If you have an abnormal blood pressure (low or high), your doctor may recommend further testing or a treatment plan.
Blood pressure readings vary depending on a number of factors, including recent exercise.
A range of values defines normal blood pressure. For a healthy adult with no medical problems, these are the ranges your doctor is looking for:
- A blood pressure reading of less than 90 over 60 may be considered too low.
- A blood pressure less than 120 over 80 is considered normal.
- A blood pressure between 120-139 over 80-89 is classified as prehypertension, meaning that your blood pressure is a bit above normal.
- Having many accurate blood pressure readings that are all 140 over 90 or higher is diagnostic of hypertension.
If you have a disease such as diabetes, the ranges may be different. Make sure you discuss with your doctor what range in blood pressure is good for you.
American Heart Association
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, NIH
Canadian Cardiovascular Society
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
Blood pressure testing and measurement. American Heart Association website. Available at http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=4470 . Accessed July 24, 2009.
Chobanian AV, Bakris GL, Black HR, et al. The seventh report of the Joint National Committee on prevention, detection, evaluation, and treatment of high blood pressure. JAMA . 2003;289:2560-2572.
High blood pressure (hypertension). Mayo Clinic website. Available at: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/high-blood-pressure/DS00100 . Updated June 2009. Accessed July 24, 2009.
Last reviewed July 2010 by
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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