One of the first things I learned as a medical student was how to take someone’s blood pressure—and I quickly discovered that if my blood pressure test technique wasn’t consistent, the readings would fluctuate up and down like a yo-yo!
Because getting an accurate blood pressure test reading is an important first step to controlling high blood pressure, I want to share with you the three guidelines I follow when checking my patients’ blood pressure.
Blood Pressure Test Guidelines
1. Refrain From Talking
When taking a resting blood pressure test, I don’t let people talk. Talking drives your numbers up. As a group, air traffic controllers have higher-than-normal blood pressure. They’re under enormous pressure—and they talk all the time.
2. Try to Relax
It’s clichéd but true—the worst place to take a blood pressure test is in a doctor’s office.
Many people come in with considerable anxiety (hyperarousal), and that drives the numbers up. There’s even a name for this phenomenon—“white coat hypertension.” This is why I have more faith in home blood pressure test readings than I do in those recorded in a doctor’s office. It’s also why I avoid taking a blood pressure test if the patient rushed getting to my office, especially when he or she was caught in traffic, when the outside temperature is very cold or when some emotional stress issues are ongoing.
The bottom line: Remain calm before and during the blood pressure test.
3. Position Yourself Properly
Research has shown that the results of your blood pressure test can be affected if your pressure is taken while you’re sitting on an exam table without arm or back support, or while your feet are dangling instead of being on the floor. Standards adopted by the American Heart Association—and I agree with them—therefore call for patients to be:
Seated with their back supported
A bare arm should be resting on a table so that when the cuff is placed on the upper portion of that arm it is at “heart level”
Feet should be on the floor
The stethoscope bell—or sensor—should overlay the brachial artery, which is at the inside of the bend of your elbow, where a pulse can usually be found
For standardization and accuracy, blood pressure should be taken exactly the same way every time.
However, if you are monitoring your blood pressure at home, I recommend taking blood pressure tests at different times throughout the day and averaging your readings to get the best sense of what your current pressure is. Doing this is important because blood pressure fluctuates over the course of the day, and you don’t want all of your readings to be taken at a time when it’s naturally high or low.
WATCH: How to Properly Take Your Blood Pressure Test at Home
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