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How to Take Blood Pressure

Learning how to take blood pressure is a skill that takes practice to perform properly. Once learned, it can be a helpful tool in managing your and your family's health care.

What do you need to take blood pressure?

You need three things to take blood pressure: a blood pressure cuff, sphygmomanometer, and stethoscope. The cuff gets wrapped around the limb. It should have a tube attached to it with a bulb and valve at the end to inflate and deflate the cuff. A sphygmomanometer is connected by tube to the cuff and tells you how much air pressure is in the cuff. The stethoscope allows you to listen to and assess the blood pressure.

Normal Blood Pressure for Women

Key points for how to take blood pressure

For an accurate blood pressure reading, the blood pressure cuff should be long enough to cover two thirds of the limb being used. A cuff that is too large or too small can give an erroneous blood pressure reading. This is also true if the cuff is either too loose or too tight around the limb. You should be able to insert 1 finger between the cuff and the limb for an accurate fit.

To avoid injury, never use a limb that has an intravenous infusion or a dialysis fistula in it. Also never use the arm or leg on the same side where surgical removal of axillary or hip lymph nodes has occurred. This may be the case with some cancer patients.

Wait 30 minutes after exercise, smoking or digesting caffeine before taking blood pressure. Whatever arm is being used to take blood pressure, keep it at the level of the heart. If it is above the heart, blood pressure will increase. If it is below the heart, blood pressure will decrease.

Normal Blood Pressure for Men

The steps to taking blood pressure

  1. Ask the person to sit down with his or her arm slightly bent and resting on a table. The patient’s feet should be on the floor and they should be resting quietly for at least 5 minutes.
  2. Wrap the cuff around the upper arm about one inch above the elbow. Follow the guidelines above for proper cuff fit.
  3. Locate the brachial pulse which is on the inside of the elbow. Place the diaphragm of the stethoscope (the flat part) over the pulse site.
  4. Using the bulb attached to the cuff, inflate the cuff to about 30mmHg above where the person's normal systolic blood pressure is. The systolic is the top number of a blood pressure reading. So if the normal systolic blood pressure for this person is 120mmHg, inflate the cuff to around 150mmHg.
  5. Slowly open the valve on the bulb to release the pressure in the cuff. The pressure should decrease at the rate of no more than 2-3mmHg per second.
  6. Using the stethoscope, record when you hear the first pulse or thump sound. As the pressure decreases, you will continue to hear the pulse sounds until they disappear. Record when you hear the last pulse sound.
  7. The first sound heard is the systolic pressure, which is the maximum pressure exerted when the heart contracts. This is the top number. The last sound heard is the diastolic pressure, which is the minimum pressure in the arteries while the heart rests. This is the bottom number. So if you heard the first sound at 135mmHg and the last sound at 90mmHg, you would record the blood pressure as 135/90. Click here to find out how to interpret the results.

Lower Blood Pressure Quickly

Jennifer Budd is a graduate nurse and certified nursing assistant.

Reviewed by Dr. Jennifer Monti, MD, MPH

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