High blood pressure (also called hypertension) is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular conditions. When a medical professional measures your blood pressure, that person is measuring the force with which blood moves through your artery walls. Too much force can damage the artery walls, leading to cardiovascular disease.
Measuring blood pressure requires a very simple, in-office test - one with which you are likely familiar - during which a cuff is inflated around your arm. The medical professional who takes your blood pressure reading will note two numbers: your systolic pressure and your diastolic pressure. Systolic pressure measures the pressure as your heart beats and pushes blood through the vessels. Diastolic pressure, the second number, measures the pressure between heartbeats. Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg).
How Does It Work?
There are several types of blood pressure monitors, but the most common is an inflatable upper arm cuff. Your doctor will inflate the cuff, from which a gauge will measure the blood pressure. At the same time, your doctor may also listen through a stethoscope to the sound of your blood as it travels through the artery.
How Is It Performed?
To get an accurate blood pressure reading, you will be asked to sit very still with your legs and ankles uncrossed while the measurement is being taken. Your doctor or other medical professional will slide the blood pressure cuff to just above your elbow on your bare arm. The cuff will inflate, tightening around your upper arm. Once a measurement has been gathered, the cuff will deflate and your doctor will remove it. Relax while they measure your blood pressure. If you try to “help” by holding up your arm during the measurement, your blood pressure will measure a little higher. The whole process only takes a couple of minutes.
If you are diagnosed with high blood pressure, your physician may ask you to keep a log of your blood pressure levels. You can purchase an inexpensive monitor for home use. Of available home blood pressure monitors, those that have an inflatable cuff that goes over the upper arm are typically more accurate than wrist or finger models.
Is It Safe?
Measuring your blood pressure does not pose any safety risks. If you are not a good candidate for having your blood pressure measured on the upper arm, your physician may seek an alternate type of monitoring.
Questions to Ask Your Doctor About Blood Pressure Tests
The following questions can help you talk to your physician about having your blood pressure tested. Consider printing out or writing down these questions and taking them with you to your appointment. Taking notes can help you remember your physician’s response when you get home.
- Is my blood pressure reading high?
- If my blood pressure reading fluctuates at different times (home, physician’s office), am I okay?
- Does my blood pressure medication seem to be working as intended?
- What can I do to lower my blood pressure?
- Why is high blood pressure a serious health concern?
Please print this list of questions here. Take them with you to the doctor and share them with friends and loved ones when you are encouraging them to see their doctors.