Blood Pressure Test

1 What is a Blood Pressure Test?

A blood pressure test is a procedure done to measure the pressure of blood in your arteries as your heart pumps.

You may have a blood pressure test as part of a routine doctor's appointment or as a screening for high blood pressure (hypertension).

Heart numbers

Many individuals, such as those with high blood pressure, do their own blood pressure test at home to they can better monitor their health.

You may have more regular blood pressure tests if you have been diagnosed with prehypertension, high blood pressure (hypertension) or low blood pressure (hypotension).

2 Reasons for Procedure

A blood pressure test is a routine procedure for most medical appointments. There are many reasons to decide to undergo a blood pressure test.

Your doctor may order separate appointments for repeat blood pressure checks to look for ongoing health conditions, such as prehypertension, high blood pressure (hypertension), low blood pressure (hypotension), heart disease or other medical conditions.

A blood pressure test should be performed at least once every two years to screen for high blood pressure as a risk factor for heart disease and stroke, beginning at the age of 18. If you are aged 40 or older,or aged 18-39 with a high risk of high blood pressure, ask your doctor for a blood pressure reading every year.

Your doctor can recommend screening at a younger age if there are additional risk factors developing heart diseases, such as being overweight or having a family history of high blood pressure or heart disease.

If you have been prediagnosed with high or low blood pressure,you should have blood pressure test more regularly. Even if your doctor does not think that you have high or low blood pressure as an ongoing condition, your blood pressure is important information for your doctor.

It can provide general information about your health. Your doctor may make a recommendation that, in addition to regular blood pressure tests at a doctor's office, you perform blood pressure test at home. There are automated home blood pressure monitors that are quite straight forward to use.

3 Potential Risks

Having a blood pressure test do not have any risk. The squeezing of an inflated blood pressure cuff on your arm can bring a little discomfort, but lasts only a few seconds.

Occasionally a few tiny red painless spots (petechia) appear after the test just below the location of the cuff, especially if you are taking anti-platelet drugs.

4 Preparing for your Procedure

There aren't any special preparation measures for a blood pressure test. You might want to have a short-sleeved shirt on during the procedure so that the nurse of the technician doing your blood pressure test has easy access to your arm and perform the test.

However, the main reason for your doctor's appointment is to check for or track high blood pressure, you should empty your bladder and avoid eating, drinking caffeinated beverages and smoking for about an hour before your procedure.

Because certain medications, such as over-the -counter cold medicines, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), antidepressants, birth control pills and others can affect your blood pressure.

It is advisable to take a list of all medications and supplements you use to your doctor's appointment.

Do not stop taking any prescription medication that you think will affect your blood pressure without your doctor's consent.

5 What to Expect

Here’s what you can expect before, during, and after your blood pressure test.

Having a blood pressure test is often a routine part of a medical appointment. The test may be performed by a nurse or technician.

The test is performed best while you're seated in a chair in the examining room. Your arm should be supported, resting on a table at heart level, both feet flat on the floor and back supported by the chair.

Your health care provider will wrap an inflatable cuff around the top part of your arm so that the bottom of the cuff is just above your elbow.

The cuff is attached to a dial, digital display or a device that looks similar to a thermometer. This equipment is called a sphygmomanometer (sfig-moe-muh-NOM-uh-tur).

Your health care provider will generally check blood pressure in both arms to determine if there is a difference. It's important to use an appropriate-sized arm cuff.

Throughout the test, you should try not to talk or move your arm. The nurse or technician will feel the pulse at your wrist and then take a reading with the sphygmomanometer, checking for when the pulse is felt as the air deflates from the cuff.

This is so he or she can figure out how much air to pump into the cuff to accurately measure your blood pressure.

Once a pulse from an artery is found and the stethoscope is positioned above the elbow, so the nurse or technician will hear the blood flow, he or she will begin inflating the cuff with a small hand pump.

The nurse or technician will inflate the cuff to momentarily stop the blood flow through the artery in your arm. Then the nurse or technician will open a valve on the hand pump to slowly release the air in the cuff.

He or she will continue to listen to your pulse with a stethoscope to record your systolic and diastolic blood pressure.

Systolic pressure — the top number of your blood pressure reading — is the pressure of the blood flow when your heart muscle contracts, pumping blood.

Diastolic pressure — the bottom number of your blood pressure reading — is the pressure measured between heartbeats. Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury, which is abbreviated mm Hg.

It's also possible your blood pressure will be evaluated using a machine that automatically measures the pressure in your pulse to determine your systolic and diastolic blood pressure.

If this is the case, it's not necessary for the nurse or technician to search for your pulse with a stethoscope. Whether your blood pressure is measured by hand or with an automatic machine, it takes about a minute to complete a single blood pressure measurement.

After the procedure, The nurse or technician taking your blood pressure can tell you what your blood pressure is immediately after the test is over.

Your doctor may discuss what the results mean if your blood pressure test shows that you have high or low blood pressure.

If your doctor thinks you may have high or low blood pressure and is trying to decide the best treatment options for you, you may need to have two or three follow-up appointments to have your blood pressure checked.

This is because your blood pressure can vary from moment to moment and day to day. Also, for this reason, you may be given multiple blood pressure tests during one visit.

Your doctor will look at the results of each of your blood pressure tests to see if you need treatment. You may also be instructed to take several blood pressure readings at home.

Tracking your blood pressure readings It can be helpful in diagnosing or monitoring high blood pressure if you record your readings in a blood pressure log, whether on paper or electronically, such as in an online personal health record or blood pressure tracker, for example.

This gives you the option of sharing your data with your health care providers and family members. Some blood pressure monitors can be connected directly to your computer, making it easy to transfer the information to an online record.

6 Procedure Results

You can learn your blood pressure results just as soon as the test is over. A blood pressure reading, given in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg), comprises of two numbers.

The first or top number measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats (systolic pressure). The second or bottom number measures the pressure in your arteries between beats (diastolic pressure).

Here's a look at the four blood pressure categories and what they mean. If your readings fall into two different categories, your correct blood pressure category is the higher one.

The top number (systolic) in mm HgBottom number (diastolic) in mm HgYour category. Ranges may be lower for children and teenagers. Talk to your child's doctor if you think your child might have high blood pressure.

What's considered low blood pressure can vary from person to person.

The numbers given are a general guideline:

  • Below 90 or Below 60 Low blood pressure (hypotension)
  • Below 120 and Below 80 Normal blood pressure
  • 120-139 or 80-89 Prehypertension
  • 140-159 or 90-99 Stage 1 hypertension
  • 160 or more or 100 or more Stage 2 hypertension.

Ranges may be lower for children and teenagers.  

Talk to you child's doctor if you suspect that your child may have high blood pressure. What is considered low blood pressure can vary from one individual to the next.

The numbers given are simply a general guide. Prehypertension and stages 1 and 2 hypertension.

If your blood pressure test indicates a higher than normal blood pressure, your doctor will recommend you to make lifestyle changes to try to lower it.

These changes may include the following:

  • Reduce the amount of salt in your diet.
  • A lower sodium level of 1500 mg per day is appropriate for people aged 51 or older, and individuals of any age who are African-American or who have hypertension, diabetes or chronic kidney disease.
  • Healthy individuals can aim for about 2300 mg per day or less.

You can monitor a number of salts you take by paying attention to the amount of salt in processed food for example:

  • Eat healthier.
  • Choose fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy foods.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Lose weight.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Limit alcohol as it can raise blood pressure if you choose to drink it, it is advisable to drink in moderation.

If lifestyle changes are inadequate, or if you have stage 2 hypertension, your doctor can recommend certain medications o help lower your blood pressure.

Low blood pressure that either does not cause signs or symptoms, even mild ones, such as brief episodes of dizziness when standing, rarely requires treatment.