How is high blood pressure diagnosed?
In order to diagnose high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, you need to have your blood pressure measured in a medical clinic.
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.
Watch an interactive animation of a manual blood pressure test, including the sounds that a medical professional hears as the blood moves through the brachial artery in your arm.
Your blood pressure reading is recorded as two numbers:
- Systolic blood pressure (the top number) — indicates how much pressure your blood is exerting against your artery walls when the heart contracts during heartbeats.
- Diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) — indicates how much pressure your blood is exerting against your artery walls while the heart is resting between beats.
Learn more about what your blood pressure numbers mean.
- If your blood pressure is normal (less than 120/80 mm Hg), your blood pressure should be screened during regular health care visits yearly for anyone 20 years of age or older.
If you're diagnosed with high blood pressure
- Your doctor may recommend monitoring your blood pressure numbers at home in addition to your regular health care visits.
- Your doctor will also likely recommend a treatment plan that includes lifestyle changes and, if needed, prescription medication.