Blood Pressure Testing and Measurement
by Amy Scholten, MPH
Blood pressure measures the force of blood in the arteries. The force is created by the beating of the heart.
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 advise more frequent monitoring.
Your doctor will look for high blood pressure, known as hypertension. This condition can put 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 measurement may also be done to check your progress if you have blood pressure problems.
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.
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 brief, squeezing pressure as the cuff inflates around your arm. A blood pressure measurement should not be painful.
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 who does not have medical problems, these are the ranges your doctor is looking for:
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:
American Heart Association
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
Canadian Cardiovascular Society
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
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:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Updated June 10, 2016. Accessed February 26, 2018.
Understanding blood pressure readings. American Heart Association website. Available at
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Updated February 19, 2018. Accessed February 26, 2018.
2/26/2018 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115345/Hypertension : Whelton PK, Carey RM, et al. 2017 ACC/AHA/AAPA/ABC/ACPM/AGS/APhA/ASH/ASPC/NMA/PCNA Guideline for the Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Management of High Blood Pressure in Adults: Executive Summary: A Report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Clinical Practice Guidelines. Hypertension. 2017 Nov 13. [Epub ahead of print].
Last reviewed March 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Alan Drabkin, MD
Last Updated: 6/24/2013
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