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Tests for High Blood Pressure

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    The only way to tell whether you have high blood pressure is to have it measured with a blood pressure cuff (sphygmomanometer).

    • This device consists of a gauge and a rubber cuff that is placed around your arm and inflated.
    • Having your blood pressure measured is painless and takes just a few minutes.

    Blood pressure (BP) is classified as follows by the American Heart Association:

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    Normal BP:

    • Under age 60: Systolic less than 140 mm Hg; diastolic less than 90
    • Age 60 years and older: Systolic less than 150 mm Hg; diastolic less than 90 mm Hg

    High BP:

    • Under age 60: Systolic greater than 140 mm Hg; diastolic greater than 90 mm Hg
    • Age 60 years and older: Systolic greater than 150 mm Hg; diastolic greater than 90 mm Hg

    Tests may be ordered by your health care provider to check for causes of high blood pressure and to assess any organ damage from high blood pressure or its treatment. These tests may include the following:

    Any of the following may be performed to detect damage to the heart or blood vessels:

    • Electrocardiogram (ECG) is a noninvasive test that detects the electrical activity of the heart and records it on paper. ECG is helpful for evaluating for damage of the heart muscle, such as heart attack, and/or thickening/hypertrophy of the heart wall/muscle, common complications of high blood pressure.

    • Echocardiogram is an ultrasound examination of the heart taken through the chest. Sound waves take a picture of the heart as it beats and relaxes and then transmits these images to a video monitor. The echocardiogram can detect problems with the heart such as enlargement, abnormalities in motion of the heart wall, blood clots, and heart valve abnormalities. It also gives a good measurement of the strength of the heart muscle (ejection fraction). The echocardiogram is more comprehensive than an ECG, but also more expensive.

    • A plain chest x-ray primarily provides an estimate of the size of the heart, but it is much less specific than echocardiography, which provides more detail.

    • Doppler ultrasound is used to check blood flow through arteries at pulse points in your arms, legs, hands, and feet. This is an accurate way to detect peripheral vascular disease, a common finding in people with high blood pressure. It also can depict the arteries to both kidneys and sometimes depicts narrowings that can lead to high BP in a minority of patients.

    WebMD Medical Reference from eMedicineHealth

    Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on April 23, 2014
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