What are the signs of high blood pressure?
High blood pressure is called "the silent killer" because it does not have any signs or symptoms. Many people have high blood pressure for years without knowing it. Having your blood pressure measured is the only way to tell if you have high blood pressure. You should have your blood pressure measured at least once every 2 years, and at least once a year if you already have prehypertension. Based on your specific risk factors, your doctor may recommend that you have your blood pressure checked more often.
How is blood pressure measured?
Blood pressure is measured by your healthcare provider using a device called a sphygmomanometer (sfig·mo·ma·nom·e·ter). A rubber cuff is wrapped around your upper arm and inflated, stopping blood flow momentarily. The cuff is attached to a gauge with blood pressure values. Next, air in the cuff is released, and the person measuring the blood pressure listens with a stethoscope. When the blood starts to pulse through the artery, it makes a sound. Sounds continue to be heard until pressure in the artery exceeds the pressure in the cuff. The person listens and watches, and then records two measurements. Systolic pressure is the pressure of the blood flow when the heart beats (the pressure when the first sound is heard). Diastolic pressure is the pressure between heartbeats (the pressure when the last sound is heard).
To make sure you get the most accurate possible reading:
- Don't drink coffee or smoke for 30 minutes before the blood pressure check
- Go to the bathroom prior to having your blood pressure checked — a full bladder can change your reading
- Sit still for 5 minutes with your back supported and your feet flat on the ground just before having your blood pressure checked
Can I measure my own blood pressure?
If you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, your doctor may recommend that you measure your blood pressure at home using over-the-counter blood pressure measuring devices, available in pharmacies and discount chain stores. These include the standard type with a blood pressure cuff and a stethoscope, as well as more advanced monitors with a digital readout. Your healthcare provider or pharmacist can help you choose the right type of blood pressure device for you and teach you how to use it. Follow the tips above to get the best possible home blood pressure reading, and make sure to:
- Rest your arm on a table at the level of your heart
- Take at least two readings 2 or more minutes apart, and average the results
If you measure your blood pressure at home, keep a record of the numbers and take it with you each time you see your health care provider.