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Diagnosing High Blood Pressure

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Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is often called a "silent disease" because you usually don't know that you have it. There may be no symptoms or signs. Nonetheless, it damages the body and eventually may cause problems like heart disease.

Therefore, it's important to regularly monitor your blood pressure, especially if it has ever been high or above the "normal" range, or if you have a family history of hypertension

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Measuring Blood Pressure

Blood pressure is most often measured with a device known as a sphygmomanometer, which consists of a stethoscope, arm cuff, dial, pump, and valve.

You can get your blood pressure measured by a health care provider, at a pharmacy, or you can purchase a blood pressure monitor for your home. Home blood pressure readings can be especially helpful in diagnosing and monitoring hypertension because they represent what is happening in the real world (rather than just at the doctor’s office). But before these numbers can be relied on for treatment decisions, it is important to bring the monitor in to your doctor’s office and have it checked against the office readings for accuracy. Blood pressure is recorded as two numbers: the systolic and diastolic pressures.

  • Systolic blood pressure is the maximum pressure during a heartbeat.
  • Diastolic blood pressure is the lowest pressure between heartbeats.

Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) and is written systolic over diastolic (for example, 120/80 mm Hg, or "120 over 80"). According to the most recent guidelines, a normal blood pressure is less than 120/80 mm Hg. Hypertension is blood pressure that is greater than 140/90. For people over age 60, high blood pressure is defined as 150/90 or greater. Prehypertension consists of blood pressure that is 120 to 139/80 to 89.

Blood pressure may increase or decrease, depending on your age, heart condition, emotions, activity, and the medications you take. One high reading does not mean you have high blood pressure. It is necessary to measure your blood pressure at different times, while you are resting comfortably for at least five minutes. To make the diagnosis of hypertension, at least three readings that are elevated are usually required.

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