What is a blood pressure test?

Blood pressure tests are a routine part of visits to the doctor. However, if your physician suspects you might be suffering from high (hypertension) or low (hypotension) blood pressure, you may need to have a blood pressure test done frequently. Inexpensive, at-home, digital blood pressure test kits are available at many local stores and can help you keep track of your blood pressure readings on a daily basis.

Having your blood pressure measured is quick and painless. A nurse secures a rubber cuff around your upper arm and inflates it, temporarily stopping the blood flow in your main artery. The air in the cuff is then released, resulting in the blood pulsing back through the artery. The nurse listens with a stethoscope until the pressure in the artery exceeds the pressure in the blood pressure cuff.

The nurse then records two measurements: systolic and diastolic pressure. Systolic pressure is the top number in the reading, indicating the blood flow pressure when your heart beats. The bottom number in the reading is diastolic pressure, which measures the pressure when you heart is relaxing. A reading of 120/80 or lower is considered normal blood pressure; a reading of 140/90 or higher is considered high blood pressure.

Common factors that could contribute to a change in blood pressure include:

  • Physical activity and exercise
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Position or posture change
  • Pain
  • Temperature changes
  • Tobacco use
  • Alcohol intake
  • Medications – including certain over-the-counter cough and cold, headache and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications
  • Recent food consumption
  • Talking or activity during test
  • Inaccurate readings due to restrictive clothing or cuffs that are sized too small for a patient’s arm
  • Dehydration
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Increased salt intake

What to expect during a blood pressure test

Preparing for your procedure

Blood pressure tests are part of routine doctor visits, so no special preparations are necessary. However, make sure to bring a list of your medications to your appointment, because some medications can negatively affect your blood pressure, including over-the-counter medications or herbal supplements.

During your procedure

Blood pressure tests are painless and only last about a minute. Stay seated with both feet on the floor and breathe normally. Most importantly, remember to relax—anxiety can cause your blood pressure reading to be higher than normal.

After your procedure

The nurse will give you the blood pressure reading immediately and it will be noted in your chart for the physician to review. If your blood pressure was too high or too low, your physician might suggest monitoring it more frequently to assess if there is a problem. If it is determined that your blood pressure warrants attention, your physician will create a treatment plan that is specifically tailored to your health needs.

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