Blood Pressure Testing and Measurement
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Blood Pressure Testing and Measurement


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Blood pressure testing is used to measure the force of blood being pumped through the arteries by the heart and the force of the arteries as they resist the blood flow.

Placement of Blood Pressure Cuff

© 2008 Nucleus Medical Art, Inc.

Parts of the Body Involved

Blood pressure is measured on the upper arm.

Reasons for Procedure

This test is used to screen for abnormal blood pressure. 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 ), which results in inadequate blood flow through tissues and organs of the body, can also be harmful.

In adults, blood pressure is typically (but not always) measured during each visit to the doctor. It is not routinely measured in children, unless there is a specific need for it. It should be measured more frequently in people who have abnormal blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and diseases of the lungs, brain, and kidneys, and in people who have an increased risk for these diseases.

Risk Factors for Complications During the Procedure

Blood pressure testing may cause a temporary painful sensation if performed on an injured or swollen arm. Other than that, blood pressure testing presents no other known risks.

What to Expect

Prior to Procedure

Unless instructed otherwise, you should sit quietly for a few minutes. This ensures a more accurate reading of your resting blood pressure.

During Procedure

Try not to move.


There is no need for anesthesia.

Description of the Procedure

A rubber cuff will be wrapped around your upper arm and inflated. This compresses the large artery in your arm and momentarily stops the flow of blood. The air in the cuff will then be slowly released while the person taking your blood pressure uses a stethoscope to listen for the sound of blood as it begins to flow through the artery in your arm. The sound of the blood pulsing through the artery can be heard until the artery is no longer compressed and blood flows freely.

While the person listens for the sound and watches the sphygmomanometer gauge, he or she will record two measurements. The first sound to be heard is the systolic pressure (top number of a reading), which is the pressure of blood flow when the heart beats. The last sound to be heard is the diastolic pressure (bottom number of a reading), which is the pressure between heartbeats (when the heart is relaxing). Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg).

If you are using a home blood pressure machine, another person will not need to be present. Some machines automatically inflate and deflate. The machine will record your blood pressure and provide you with a reading.

After the Procedure

If part of a routine exam, you can resume your normal activities, in most cases.

How Long Will It Take?

The test should take less than a minute.

Will It Hurt?

There may be some momentary squeezing or pressure sensation as the cuff inflates around your arm, but a blood pressure measurement should not be painful.

Possible Complications:

A blood pressure measurement could worsen an injured or swollen arm. Other than that, no possible complications of blood pressure measurement are known.

Average Hospital Stay

Hospitalization is not required.


Blood pressure readings vary depending on a number of factors, including age. A range of values defines normal blood pressure.

  • 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, according to the 2003 guidelines of the National High Blood Pressure Education Program.
  • Having several accurate blood pressure readings that are consistently 140 over 90 or higher is diagnostic of hypertension.

If you have a blood pressure that is abnormally low or high, your doctor may recommend further evaluation and possible treatment with lifestyle changes or antihypertensive drugs. For prehypertension, the 2003 guidelines recommend closer monitoring and treatment with lifestyle measures, but usually not with drugs. Lifestyle measures may include weight loss, exercise, healthy diet, and decreasing intake of salt and alcohol.

Call Your Doctor If Any of the Following Occurs

  • You monitor your own blood pressure and notice, after several readings, that it is too high or abnormally low.
  • You develop any new symptoms.
  • Your existing symptoms worsen.
  • You have questions about use of prescription medication to treat high blood pressure.
  • You experience any side effects from medications to treat hypertension.


American Heart Association

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, NIH


Canadian Cardiovascular Society

Heart and Stroke Foundatoin of Canada


Blood Pressure Testing and Measurement. American Heart Association website. Available at . Accessed on September 16, 2004.

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. Journal of the American Medical Association. 2003;289:2560-2572.

HeartCenter Online website. Available at . Accessed on September 16, 2004.

Last reviewed November 2007 by Rosalyn Carson-DeWitt, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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