How Do I Know If I Have High Blood Pressure?

High blood pressure usually has no symptoms. In fact, many people have this disease for years without knowing it. Having high blood pressure (hypertension) doesn’t mean you’re tense, nervous or hyperactive. You can be a calm, relaxed person and still have hypertension. The only way to find out if you have this disease is to have your blood pressure checked! A blood pressure test is quick and painless. It can be done in a doctor’s office, hospital clinic, school, nurse’s office, company clinic or at a health fair.

A single high reading doesn’t mean you have high blood pressure, but it’s a sign that you need to watch your blood pressure carefully. If your blood pressure is normal, get it checked at least every two years. If you have prehypertension, or if you have a family history of high blood pressure, you’re at higher risk. Your doctor will tell you how often to have it checked.

How is blood pressure checked?
Blood pressure is measured using a medical instrument called a sphygmomanometer. A rubber cuff is wrapped around your upper arm and inflated. When the cuff is inflated, it compresses a large artery in your arm, momentarily stopping the blood flow.

Next, air in the cuff is released, and the person measuring the blood pressure listens with a stethoscope. When the blood starts to pulse through the artery, it makes a sound. Sounds continue to be heard until pressure in the artery exceeds the pressure in the cuff.

The person listens and watches the gauge, then records two measurements. Systolic pressure is the pressure of the blood flow when the heart beats (the pressure when the first sound is heard). Diastolic pressure is the pressure between heartbeats (the pressure when the last sound is heard). Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury, which is abbreviated mm Hg.

Do blood pressure cuffs come in different sizes?
Yes.  Children and adults with smaller or larger than average-sized arms may need special-sized cuffs. These are available in some pharmacies and from medical supply companies. They may also be ordered directly from companies that sell blood pressure cuffs. Ask your doctor or pharmacist for help.

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