Blood pressure is a measurement of the force applied to the walls of your arteries as your heart pumps blood through your body.
You can measure your blood pressure at home. You can also have it checked at your doctor's office, a fire station or with automated machines in drug stores and other places.
Sit with your back supported, your legs uncrossed, and feet on the floor.
Your arm should be supported so that your upper arm is at heart level. Roll up your sleeve so that your arm is bare.
You or your doctor will wrap the blood pressure cuff snugly around your upper arm. The lower edge of the cuff should be 1 inch above the bend of your elbow.
Inflating the cuff too slowly or not high enough may cause a false reading. If you loosen the valve too much, you won't be able to determine your blood pressure.
The procedure may be done two or more times.
Before you measure your blood pressure:
Take two or three readings at a sitting. Take the readings 1 minute apart. Remain in a seated position. When checking your blood pressure outside the doctor's office, note the time of the readings. Your doctor may suggest that you do your readings at certain times.
You will feel slight discomfort when the blood pressure cuff is inflated to its highest level.
High blood pressure has no symptoms so you may not know if you have this problem. High blood pressure is often discovered during a visit to the doctor for another reason.
Finding high blood pressure early can help prevent heart disease, stroke, eye problems, or chronic kidney disease.
All adults should have their blood pressure regularly checked.
Blood pressure readings are usually given as two numbers. For example, your doctor might tell you your blood pressure is 120 over 80 (written as 120/80 mm Hg). One or both of these numbers can be too high.
Normal blood pressure is when the top number (systolic blood pressure) is below 120 most of the time, and the bottom number (diastolic blood pressure) is below 80 most of the time (written as 120/80 mm Hg).
If your blood pressure numbers are 120/80 or greater but below 140/90, it is called pre-hypertension. If you have pre-hypertension, you are more likely to develop high blood pressure.
High blood pressure (hypertension) is when the top number (systolic blood pressure) is 140 or more most of the time or the bottom number (diastolic blood pressure) is 90 or more most of the time. (written as 140/90 mm Hg).
If you have diabetes, heart disease, or kidney problems, or if you had a stroke, your doctor may want your blood pressure to be lower.
The most commonly used blood pressure targets for people with these medical problems are below 130 to 140/80 mmHg.
Most of the time, high blood pressure does not cause symptoms.
It is normal for your blood pressure to vary due to the time of day:
Blood pressure readings taken at home may be a better measure of your current blood pressure than those taken at your doctor's office.
Many people get nervous at the doctor's office and have higher readings than they have at home. This is called white coat hypertension. Home blood pressure readings can help detect this problem.
Diastolic blood pressure; Systolic blood pressure; Blood pressure reading; Measuring blood pressure
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Updated by: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team. Editorial update: 05/14/14
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