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Blood Pressure Testing and Measurement

Definition

Blood pressure measures the force of blood in the arteries. The force is created by the beating of the heart.

Placement of Blood Pressure Cuff
IMAGE
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Reasons for Test

This test may be done to screen for abnormal blood pressure. It is measured at most routine visits to the doctor in older children and adults. If you have abnormal blood pressure, or other blood pressure-related conditions, your doctor may recommend more frequent monitoring.

Your doctor will look for high blood pressure , known as hypertension. This condition can puts stress on major organs and blood vessels. Over time, high blood pressure can cause permanent damage.

Your doctor may also look for abnormally low blood pressure, known as hypotension . This may limit blood flow through tissues and organs of the body. This can also be harmful.

Blood pressure may also be done to check your progress if you have blood pressure problems.

Possible Complications

There are no significant complications associated with this procedure.

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. .

Some blood pressure machines automatically inflate and deflate. The machine will record your blood pressure and provide you with a reading.

After Test

If the reading is part of a routine exam, you can resume your normal activities after the test.

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.

Results

If you have an abnormal blood pressure , your doctor may suggest further testing or a treatment plan.

Blood pressure readings vary depending on a number of factors, including recent exercise.

Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). 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 a sign of hypotension.
  • 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 elevated.
  • Having many accurate blood pressure readings that are all 140 over 90 or higher is a sign of hypertension.

If you have a disease such as diabetes or kidney disease, the ranges may be different. Talk to your doctor about where your blood pressure range should be.

Call Your Doctor

If you are checking your blood pressure at home, call your doctor if any of the following occur:

  • Blood pressure that is too high or abnormally low
  • Symptoms like chest pain, difficulty breathing, or lightheadedness
  • Questions about the use of medication to treat high blood pressure

Revision Information

  • American Heart Association

    http://www.heart.org

  • National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, NIH

    http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov

  • Canadian Cardiovascular Society

    http://www.ccs.ca

  • Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada

    http://www.heartandstroke.ca

  • 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.

  • Explore high blood pressure. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/hbp/ . Updated August 2, 2012. Accessed April 17, 2013.

  • Understanding blood pressure readings. American Heart Association website. Available at http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HighBloodPressure/AboutHighBloodPressure/Understanding-Blood-Pressure-Readings%5FUCM%5F301764%5FArticle.jsp . Updated March 1, 2013. Accessed April 17, 2013.

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