The only way to know (diagnose) if you have high blood pressure (HBP or hypertension) is to have your blood pressure tested. Understanding your blood pressure numbers is key to controlling high blood pressure.
If your blood pressure is normal (less than 120/80 mm Hg), your blood pressure should be screened during regular healthcare visits at least once every two years for anyone 20 years of age or older, according to recommendations from the American Heart Association (AHA). In addition, the AHA reports:
If your blood pressure reading is higher than normal
- Your doctor may take several readings over time and/or have you monitor your blood pressure at home before diagnosing you with high blood pressure.
- A single high reading does not mean that you have high blood pressure. But, if your readings continue to stay high, your doctor will most likely want you to begin a treatment program.
If you are diagnosed with high blood pressure
- Your doctor may recommend monitoring your blood pressure numbers at home in addition to your regular healthcare visits.
- Your doctor will also likely recommend a treatment plan that includes lifestyle changes and, if needed, prescription medication.
How a blood pressure test works
- A blood pressure reading is taken with a pressure cuff (sphygmomanometer).
- During the test, the cuff is placed around the upper arm before being manually or electronically inflated.
- Once inflated, the cuff compresses the brachial artery, momentarily stopping blood flow.
- Next, air in the cuff is slowly released while the person performing the measurement listens with a stethoscope or monitors an electronic readout.
Here’s what you can do to ensure a correct reading, according to Harvard Health Publications:
- Don’t drink a caffeinated beverage or smoke during the 30 minutes before the test.
- Sit quietly for five minutes before the test begins.
- During the measurement, sit in a chair with your feet on the floor and your arm supported so your elbow is at about heart level.
- The inflatable part of the cuff should completely cover at least 80% of your upper arm, and the cuff should be placed on bare skin, not over a shirt.
- Don’t talk during the measurement.
- Have your blood pressure measured twice, with a brief break in between. If the readings are different by 5 points or more, have it done a third time.