Step 6: Diagnosing High Blood Pressure   Next Page

Every health care visit should include a measurement of your blood pressure. The procedure is quick, easy, and painless.

To measure blood pressure, your doctor or nurse uses an instrument called a "sphygmomanometer," more often referred to as a blood pressure cuff. The cuff is wrapped around your upper arm and inflated to briefly stop the flow of blood in the artery. As the cuff is slowly deflated, the blood begins to flow into the artery again. The doctor or nurse uses a stethoscope to listen to the blood pumping through that artery. When the doctor or nurse hears the first pumping sound, the number on the guage is the systolic pressure. When the sound stops, the number is the diastolic pressure.

More than one elevated blood pressure reading at separate office visits is usually required before a diagnosis of high blood pressure is made.

Guidelines for measuring blood pressure

Blood pressure readings can be inaccurate if the cuff does not fit properly or the patient has just exercised. In addition, some drinks can effect the readings. The following guidelines, set by the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, can help improve the accuracy of your blood pressure measurement:

  • Do not smoke or exercise at least 30 minutes before a blood pressure measurement.
  • Do not drink caffeinated beverages or alcohol at least 30 minutes before a blood pressure measurement. Go to the bathroom so you have an empty bladder.
  • Sit in a chair with your back supported and your arm supported at heart level.
  • Sit for at least 5 minutes before your blood pressure is measured.
  • For greatest accuracy, your health care professional should take two or more measurements separated by at least two minutes. The readings should then be averaged.

White-coat hypertension

The term "white-coat hypertension" refers to when a person's blood pressure rises in the presence of a doctor or health care professional, then returns to normal at home. The phenomenon is fairly uncommon. To evaluate whether a person truly has white-coat hypertension, the doctor may ask a patient to monitor his or her blood pressure at home. In most cases, people who believe they just have white-coat hypertension also have high blood pressure at other times away from the doctor's office.


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Review Date: June 3, 2003

Reviewed By: Jacqueline A. Hart, M.D., Department of Internal Medicine, Newton-Wellesley Hospital, Harvard University and Senior Medical Editor, A.D.A.M., Inc.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. Copyright 2004 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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