Normal or Not? Reading Your Blood Pressure

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Filed Under: Blood Pressure, Heart Health
Last Reviewed 02/06/2014

Normal or Not? Reading Your Blood Pressure

At your last doctor’s visit, you probably rolled up your sleeves and held your arm out to have your blood pressure taken. Well, the nurse may have been doing it all wrong.

The difference between a true diagnosis of high blood pressure and temporarily elevated blood pressure basically comes down to technique and regular readings. If you are worried that you may have high blood pressure and all the health risks that come with it like heart disease, stroke and kidney disease, you need to become educated about what your blood pressure numbers mean and the proper way to have your blood pressure taken.

There are a couple of ways to tell if you have high blood pressure or if your blood pressure is simply elevated. One is to determine what is normal for you. The textbook definition of a normal blood pressure reading is 120/80 mmHg. However, if you are between the ages of 40 and 60 a reading of 140/90 or below would be considered normal because blood vessels become more rigid with age.

But the best way to know your true blood pressure reading is to be sure that your doctor has measured your blood pressure properly. Oftentimes screenings are done haphazardly, allowing a number of factors like time of day and body position to impact a reading. Follow my checklist of tips to get the most accurate blood pressure screening.  

  • Don’t eat or exercise for 30 minutes prior to a screening.
  • Rest at least five minutes beforehand and be sure your feel comfortable in your surroundings.
  • Have your reading done in the morning because your body’s rhythms cause your pressure to rise naturally in the afternoon and evening.
  • Remove all clothing from the waist up because rolling up a sleeve can act as a tourniquet and lead to a false reading.
  • Have your blood pressure taken while laying down, standing and sitting. Readings may elevate as your change positions, a sign of weak adrenal glands rather than high blood pressure.
  • Make sure your elbow is at the same level as your heart during the screening. An elbow even an inch below where it should be could raise a reading by 17 points.
  • Have your blood pressure taken three times in one screening with one minute of rest between each test.
  • Find out if an ambulatory monitoring machine is available.   An automatic cuff or small sensor inside the machine records blood pressure readings every 15 minutes over a 24-hour period.
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