High Blood Pressure - Exams and Tests
The main test for
high blood pressure is simple, fast, and painless.
These are the usual steps:
- You sit quietly for 5 minutes before the test, with both feet flat on the floor.
- You sit down with your arm resting
on the arm of the chair so that the arm is level with your heart.
- An inflatable
sleeve, called a cuff, is wrapped around your upper arm. It's attached to a
dial that will show your blood pressure
- The nurse (or other health
professional) seals the cuff and pumps it up. You feel tight pressure as the
cuff cuts off the blood flow in your arm.
Next, the nurse slowly loosens the cuff while using a stethoscope to listen to
the heartbeat in your inner elbow. When the cuff is just loose enough that
blood starts to flow again and the nurse can hear it, that is your systolic
- The cuff is slowly loosened
some more. When it's loose enough that your heartbeat can no longer be heard
through the stethoscope, that is your diastolic blood
If this test shows that your blood pressure is
high, your doctor will likely have you come in two more times to be tested.
This will confirm that you have high blood pressure.
Some people only have high blood pressure when they're at the
doctor's office. This is called
white-coat hypertension. If your doctor thinks this is getting in the way of measuring your
true blood pressure, you may need to take your blood pressure at home.
Regular blood pressure checks
All adults should have their blood pressure checked regularly.
- At least every 1 to 2 years if your blood pressure
is normal (119/79 or
- At least every year—or as often as
your doctor recommends—if you have prehypertension. This means your systolic
pressure (the first number) is 120 to 139 and your diastolic pressure (the
second number) is 80 to 89.
- More often if you have other
risk factors for heart disease or evidence of disease caused by high blood
The automated devices you find in grocery stores
or drugstores may not be accurate. Having your blood
pressure checked at the doctor's office is best.
home blood pressure monitor makes it easy to keep
track of your blood pressure. It's a good idea to bring your home monitor to the doctor's office to check its accuracy.
- High Blood Pressure: Checking Your Blood Pressure at Home
Besides taking your blood
pressure, your doctor will do a
physical exam and medical history. Your doctor may also have
you get other tests to find out whether high blood pressure has damaged any
organs or caused other problems. These tests may include:
Your doctor may also check
your risk of
coronary artery disease.
Sometimes doctors automatically schedule routine tests because they think that's what patients expect. But experts say that routine heart tests can be a waste of time and money. For more information, see Heart Tests: When Do You Need Them?