• 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
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

    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 (hypotension) may limit blood flow through tissues and organs of the body. This can also be harmful.
    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 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.

    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. 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.

    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.


    If you have an abnormal blood pressure (low or high), your doctor may suggest 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 a sign 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.

    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 of chest pain, trouble breathing, or dizziness
    • Questions about the use of medicine to treat high blood pressure


    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://ww2.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.

    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 April 4, 2012. Accessed January 12, 2013.

    Revision Information

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