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Getting a blood pressure reading requires a monitor (sphygmomanometer) with a measuring unit and cuff. A manual device will also include a stethoscope. People can buy one or do a test at a pharmacy or doctor’s office.
Bood pressure is one of the four major vital signs, along with heart rate, breathing rate, and body temperature. Changes in a person’s vital signs can indicate an underlying health problem or a need to make lifestyle changes.
Read on to learn how to measure blood pressure correctly and how to interpret the results.
Blood pressure is the term for the amount of force that the blood places on the blood vessels in the body. A blood pressure reading includes
The upper number, called the systolic pressure, measures the pressure inside the arteries as the heart contracts to pump blood. The lower number, called the diastolic pressure, is the pressure inside the arteries as the heart rests between beats.
According to the
- high cholesterol, which can lead to plaque buildup in the arteries
- smoking tobacco
- consuming alcohol
- low levels of physical activity
- health conditions, such as obesity and diabetes
- having a diet that is high in salt
Accurate blood pressure readings are important, as high blood pressure often causes no symptoms. Some symptoms, such as a headache, may occur if blood pressure reaches or exceeds
Doctors use either electronic or mechanical machines to measure blood pressure in a clinic. In some cases, they may recommend monitoring and recording blood pressure at home.
Monitoring blood pressure at home usually requires a machine that insurance may or may not cover. A doctor may recommend monitoring blood pressure at home if a person needs to know their blood pressure at specific times of the day or after taking certain medications.
It is possible to take blood pressure without using a machine, but it is more difficult.
To check blood pressure without the aid of an automated machine, a person will need several medical items:
- a stethoscope
- a blood pressure cuff with a squeezable balloon
- an aneroid monitor with a numbered dial to read the measurements
A person who wishes to check their blood pressure manually should ensure that they select the correct size of manual cuff to get the most accurate reading. They can then follow these steps:
- sit in a relaxed position with the arm at rest on a table
- secure the cuff around the bicep so that it cannot move but is not tight
- squeeze the balloon to increase the pressure
- watch the aneroid monitor and increase the pressure to
20–30 mm Hghigher than usual blood pressure
- after inflating the cuff, place the stethoscope just inside the elbow crease under the cuff
- slowly deflate the balloon and listen to the sounds, known as Korotkoff sounds, through the stethoscope
- note the number on the aneroid monitor when the first sound occurs, as this is systolic pressure
- continue listening until the steady heartbeat sound stops
- at this point, record the number from the aneroid monitor, which is the diastolic pressure
Doctors often use this type of monitor, as it is
The easiest and most accurate way to measure blood pressure at home is to buy an automated blood pressure monitor with an upper arm cuff.
The instructions for use may vary among machines, and a person should follow them carefully to ensure proper operation. If the instructions are difficult to understand, a local pharmacy or doctor’s office will be able to show a person how to operate the machine correctly.
Doctors may ask a person to bring their at-home machine to the office during their next visit to compare it with the doctor’s reading and give an idea of accuracy.
Using a high quality machine is important. Inaccurate readings can be misleading if they are too low or cause unnecessary stress if they are too high. If a person is checking their blood pressure at home as part of a treatment plan, inaccurate readings could lead to harmful changes in medications or treatments.
People can buy a blood pressure monitor for home use here, but it may be a good idea to ask a doctor which brand they recommend.
Apps and wrist devices are available that claim to measure blood pressure, but
However, apps that log blood pressure results may be helpful for people who need to take regular blood pressure tests. Recording a set of readings in these apps may help doctors identify trends in blood pressure and recommend treatments.
Blood pressure readings fall into the
|Blood pressure status||Systolic pressure (mm Hg)||Diastolic pressure (mm Hg)|
|Normal||less than 120||less than 80|
|Elevated||120–129||less than 80|
|Stage 1 high blood pressure (hypertension)||130–139||80–89|
|Stage 2 high blood pressure||140 or higher||90 or higher|
|Hypertensive crisis (seek immediate medical attention)||higher than 180||higher than 120|
Normal blood pressure is anything below 120/80 mm Hg. However, a healthy number can vary among individuals.
The numbers may change based on various factors, such as:
- physical activity levels
- stress levels
- underlying medical conditions, such as diabetes
Some people’s blood pressure is higher when they are in a healthcare setting rather than going about their daily life. Doctors may refer to this phenomenon as white coat hypertension.
Anyone uncertain about their target blood pressure should speak with a doctor for guidance.
They should also do this if several readings show that their blood pressure is higher than usual.
Medical advice is also necessary for people who experience high blood pressure during pregnancy, as some types of hypertension can put both the pregnant person and the fetus at risk.
Anyone who experiences a systolic pressure higher than 180 mm Hg or a diastolic pressure over 120 mm Hg should seek emergency medical care, as this is a sign of a hypertensive crisis.
When checking blood pressure at home, it is
- placing the cuff directly on bare skin on the upper arm
- taking a few deep breaths and relaxing for up to 5 minutes before measuring blood pressure
- avoiding talking during the test
- placing the feet flat on the floor and sitting up straight while measuring blood pressure
- avoiding checking blood pressure in a cold room
- supporting the arm as close to heart level as possible
- measuring the blood pressure at a few different times during the day
- avoiding exercising, smoking, and drinking caffeine or alcohol for 30 minutes before taking a blood pressure reading
- emptying the bladder before taking a blood pressure test, as a full bladder may give an incorrect blood pressure reading
- taking several readings 1 minute apart, as readings can vary
People should check with a doctor which arm to use to take blood pressure
- muscular weakness, known as paresis, in one arm
- paralysis in an arm
- a line into their veins, such as a catheter
- had a mastectomy on one side
- recent surgical wounds on one side
- a dialysis shunt in one arm
These conditions and factors can increase the risk of adverse effects, such as swelling due to lymphedema.
It may be necessary to use the other arm or place the cuff around the calf instead.
Various blood pressure monitors are available for home use.
The tests that people take at home may not be as accurate as those that the doctor takes, but automated blood pressure monitors for home use can give an idea of whether a person’s blood pressure is within an acceptable range.
Anyone concerned about their blood pressure readings should seek guidance from a doctor on the best ways to monitor and manage their blood pressure.
Often, lifestyle choices can help manage high blood pressure. Examples include exercise, dietary choices, and stress management strategies. In some cases, a doctor may also prescribe medications.
Monitoring blood pressure at home can help a person know whether they need to seek medical help for hypertension. It