Blood Pressure Testing and Measurement
Blood pressure measures the force of blood in the arteries. The force is created by the beating of the heart.
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Reasons for Test
This test may be done to screen for:
- High blood pressure that could put stress on organs and blood vessels
- Hypotension that may limit blood flow to tissues and organs
This test is done when older children and adults have routine visits to the doctor. It may be done more often in people who have abnormal blood pressure or related health problems.
There are no complications from having this test.
What to Expect
Prior to Test
The care staff may talk to you about the current medicines, herbs, and supplements that you take.
Description of Test
You may be asked to sit quietly for a few minutes to relax. This may make the results more accurate.
A soft cuff will be wrapped around the upper arm. It will be inflated with air. The cuff will press on the large artery in the arm. It briefly stops the flow of blood when it is inflated. The air in the cuff will then be slowly released. A stethoscope will be used 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 blood pressure and display the reading.
You can go back to normal activities.
How Long Will It Take?
Less than a minute
Will It Hurt?
You will not feel pain from the reading.
Blood pressure is measured in mm Hg (millimeters of mercury). Possible results are:
- A blood pressure reading of less than 90 over 60 may be a sign of hypotension
- A blood pressure less than 120 over less than 80 is considered normal
- A blood pressure between 120-129 over less than 80 is classified as elevated
- Having many accurate blood pressure readings that are all 130-139 over 80-89 is stage 1 hypertension
- Having many accurate blood pressure readings that are all 140 over 90 or higher is stage 2 hypertension
More testing or a treatment plan may be needed if the results are not normal.
Call Your Doctor
Call your doctor if you have any questions or concerns. You should also call your doctor to report any abnormal blood pressure readings taken at home.
If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.
American Heart Association
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
Canadian Cardiovascular Society
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
Blood pressure measurement and monitoring. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/evaluation/blood-pressure-measurement-and-monitoring. Accessed September 16, 2020.
High blood pressure. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/hbp. Accessed September 16, 2020.
Understanding blood pressure readings. American Heart Association website. Available at http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HighBloodPressure/AboutHighBloodPressure/Understanding-Blood-Pressure-Readings_UCM_301764_Article.jsp. Accessed September 16, 2020.
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 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Kari Kassir, MD Last Updated: 4/13/2021