Blood Pressure Home > How to Take Blood Pressure

In most cases, your healthcare provider will use a sphygmomanometer to take blood pressure readings; however, special machines are also available. The procedure is painless and quick. If high blood pressure is a concern, your doctor will take several readings to determine your average blood pressure.

How to Take Blood Pressure: An Introduction

Taking blood pressure readings is quick and painless. In most cases, measuring blood pressure involves using either a sphygmomanometer or blood pressure machine. Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg) and recorded as two numbers: systolic pressure "over" diastolic pressure. For example, the doctor or nurse might say "130 over 80" as a blood pressure reading. This is written as 130/80.
While both numbers in a blood pressure test are important, the systolic blood pressure is especially important as people grow older.

Using a Sphygmomanometer to Take Blood Pressure

When taking blood pressure, a doctor may use a familiar-looking device with a long name. It is called a sphygmomanometer (pronounced sfig'-mo-ma-nom-e-ter). When this is used to take blood pressure readings, a fabric cuff is wrapped around the arm and then inflated. Then a stethoscope is used to listen to the sound of blood rushing back through the artery.
As the air is released, the healthcare provider reads two numbers from a gauge that is attached to the cuff. The first number is recorded when a thumping sound is first heard (systolic pressure). The second number is when the thumping sound is no longer heard (diastolic pressure).
As mentioned, the two numbers that measure blood pressure are recorded as a fraction: one number on top and one on the bottom. For example, what many people consider normal blood pressure is read as 120/80. The number on top is your systolic pressure. It measures the pressure inside your blood vessels at the moment your heart beats. The number on the bottom is your diastolic pressure. It measures the pressure in your blood vessels between heartbeats, when your heart is resting.
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Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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