Blood Pressure Home > Taking Blood Pressure

When taking blood pressure, your healthcare provider will usually use a sphygmomanometer or blood pressure machine. A sphygmomanometer is the most commonly used device for measuring blood pressure. When a person's blood pressure is taken, it's important to get at least two readings -- at least two minutes apart -- and average the results.

Taking Blood Pressure: An Overview

Taking blood pressure readings is quick and painless. Usually, the process involves using either a sphygmomanometer or blood pressure machine. Blood pressure is expressed 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 are important when taking blood pressure, the systolic blood pressure is especially important to be aware of as people grow older.

Using a Sphygmomanometer to Take Blood Pressure

When taking blood pressure, a doctor may use a familiar device with a long name. As mentioned, it is called a sphygmomanometer (pronounced sfig'-mo-ma-nom-e-ter). This device has a:
  • Pump
  • Cuff
  • Valve
  • Dial.
When a sphygmomanometer is used for taking blood pressure readings, a cuff made of fabric is wrapped around your arm and then inflated. Then a stethoscope is used to listen to the sound of blood rushing back through the artery.
The healthcare provider then reads two numbers from a gauge attached to the cuff as the air is released. 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).
The two numbers that measure your blood pressure are written 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.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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