How to check blood pressure by hand: Methods and tips (2023)

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Blood pressure is one of the four major vital signs, along with heart rate, breathing rate, and body temperature. These vital signs can help give a general idea of a person’s overall health.

Changes in a person’s vital signs can indicate an underlying health problem or a need to make lifestyle changes.

The typical way to measure blood pressure is using a sphygmomanometer, or blood pressure monitor, which consists of a measuring unit and a cuff. If a person uses a manual device, they will also need a stethoscope.

People can buy a blood pressure machine to use at home or visit a doctor or pharmacy for testing.

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Blood pressure is the term for the amount of force that the blood places on the blood vessels in the body. A blood pressure reading includes two numbers that indicate the pressure inside the arteries as the blood flows through the body.

The upper number, called the systolic pressure, measures the pressure inside the arteries as the heart contracts to pump blood. The lower number, called the diastolic pressure, is the pressure inside the arteries as the heart rests between beats.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), normal blood pressure is anything below 120/80 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). Higher measurements often indicate that the heart is working too hard in pumping blood through the arteries.

High blood pressure can occur due to many factors, including:

  • high cholesterol, which can lead to plaque buildup in the arteries
  • smoking tobacco
  • consuming alcohol
  • low levels of physical activity
  • health conditions, such as obesity and diabetes
  • having a diet that is high in salt
  • stress

Accurate blood pressure readings are important, as high blood pressure often causes no symptoms. Some symptoms, such as a headache, may occur if blood pressure reaches or exceeds 180/120 mm Hg. At this point, the person may be experiencing a hypertensive crisis, which is severe hypertension requiring urgent medical care.

(Video) Blood Pressure Measurement: How to Check Blood Pressure Manually

Doctors use either electronic or mechanical machines to measure blood pressure in a clinic. In some cases, they may recommend monitoring and recording blood pressure at home.

Monitoring blood pressure at home usually requires a machine that insurance may or may not cover. A doctor may recommend monitoring blood pressure at home if a person needs to know their blood pressure at specific times of the day or after taking certain medications.

It is possible to take blood pressure without using a machine, but it is more difficult.

How can Medicare help with monitoring blood pressure?

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To check blood pressure without the aid of an automated machine, a person will need several medical items:

  • a stethoscope
  • a blood pressure cuff with a squeezable balloon
  • an aneroid monitor with a numbered dial to read the measurements

A person who wishes to check their blood pressure manually should ensure that they select the correct size of manual cuff to get the most accurate reading. They can then follow these steps:

  • sit in a relaxed position with the arm at rest on a table
  • secure the cuff around the bicep so that it cannot move but is not tight
  • squeeze the balloon to increase the pressure
  • watch the aneroid monitor and increase the pressure to 20–30 mm Hg higher than usual blood pressure
  • after inflating the cuff, place the stethoscope just inside the elbow crease under the cuff
  • slowly deflate the balloon and listen to the sounds, known as Korotkoff sounds, through the stethoscope
  • note the number on the aneroid monitor when the first sound occurs, as this is systolic pressure
  • continue listening until the steady heartbeat sound stops
  • at this point, record the number from the aneroid monitor, which is the diastolic pressure

Doctors often use this type of monitor, as it is more accurate than a digital monitor. However, it can be more difficult for people to use at home.

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(Video) Blood pressure measurement - OSCE guide

The easiest and most accurate way to measure blood pressure at home is to buy an automated blood pressure monitor with an upper arm cuff.

The instructions for use may vary among machines, and a person should follow them carefully to ensure proper operation. If the instructions are difficult to understand, a local pharmacy or doctor’s office will be able to show a person how to operate the machine correctly.

Doctors may ask a person to bring their at-home machine to the office during their next visit to compare it with the doctor’s reading and give an idea of accuracy.

Using a high quality machine is important. Inaccurate readings can be misleading if they are too low or cause unnecessary stress if they are too high. If a person is checking their blood pressure at home as part of a treatment plan, inaccurate readings could lead to harmful changes in medications or treatments.

People can buy a blood pressure monitor for home use here, but it may be a good idea to ask a doctor which brand they recommend.

Apps and wrist devices are available that claim to measure blood pressure, but experts warn that these are often of poor quality. As a result, the readings may be inaccurate. They are not a reliable way to monitor a person’s health.

However, apps that log blood pressure results may be helpful for people who need to take regular blood pressure tests. Recording a set of readings in these apps may help doctors identify trends in blood pressure and recommend treatments.

Learn about some of the apps available.

Blood pressure readings fall into the following categories:

(Video) How to: Measure Blood Pressure

Blood pressure statusSystolic pressure (mm Hg)Diastolic pressure (mm Hg)
Normalless than 120less than 80
Elevated120–129less than 80
Stage 1 high blood pressure (hypertension)130–13980–89
Stage 2 high blood pressure140 or higher90 or higher
Hypertensive crisis (seek immediate medical attention)higher than 180higher than 120

Normal blood pressure is anything below 120/80 mm Hg. However, a healthy number can vary among individuals.

The numbers may change based on various factors, such as:

  • weight
  • physical activity levels
  • stress levels
  • underlying medical conditions, such as diabetes

Some people’s blood pressure is higher when they are in a healthcare setting rather than going about their daily life. Doctors may refer to this phenomenon as white coat hypertension.

Anyone uncertain about their target blood pressure should speak with a doctor for guidance.

They should also do this if several readings show that their blood pressure is higher than usual.

Medical advice is also necessary for people who experience high blood pressure during pregnancy, as some types of hypertension can put both the pregnant person and the fetus at risk.

Anyone who experiences a systolic pressure higher than 180 mm Hg or a diastolic pressure over 120 mm Hg should seek emergency medical care, as this is a sign of a hypertensive crisis.

When checking blood pressure at home, it is important that a person is:

(Video) How to Appropriately Measure Blood Pressure in a Practice Setting

  • placing the cuff directly on bare skin on the upper arm
  • taking a few deep breaths and relaxing for up to 5 minutes before measuring blood pressure
  • avoiding talking during the test
  • placing the feet flat on the floor and sitting up straight while measuring blood pressure
  • avoiding checking blood pressure in a cold room
  • supporting the arm as close to heart level as possible
  • measuring the blood pressure at a few different times during the day
  • avoiding exercising, smoking, and drinking caffeine or alcohol for 30 minutes before taking a blood pressure reading
  • emptying the bladder before taking a blood pressure test, as a full bladder may give an incorrect blood pressure reading
  • taking several readings 1 minute apart, as readings can vary

People should check with a doctor which arm to use to take blood pressure if they have:

  • lymphedema
  • muscular weakness, known as paresis, in one arm
  • paralysis in an arm
  • a line into their veins, such as a catheter
  • had a mastectomy on one side
  • recent surgical wounds on one side
  • a dialysis shunt in one arm

These conditions and factors can increase the risk of adverse effects, such as swelling due to lymphedema.

It may be necessary to use the other arm or place the cuff around the calf instead.

Various blood pressure monitors are available for home use.

The tests that people take at home may not be as accurate as those that the doctor takes, but automated blood pressure monitors for home use can give an idea of whether a person’s blood pressure is within an acceptable range.

Anyone concerned about their blood pressure readings should seek guidance from a doctor on the best ways to monitor and manage their blood pressure.

Often, lifestyle choices can help manage high blood pressure. Examples include exercise, dietary choices, and stress management strategies. In some cases, a doctor may also prescribe medications.

Monitoring blood pressure at home can help a person know whether they need to seek medical help for hypertension. It can also help a doctor decide whether to adjust a person’s medications.

FAQs

How do you check blood pressure manually by hand? ›

Place your index and middle finger of your hand on the inner wrist of the other arm, just below the base of the thumb. You should feel a tapping or pulsing against your fingers. Count the number of taps you feel in 10 seconds. Multiply that number by 6 to find out your heart-rate for one minute.

What is the easiest way to take blood pressure manually? ›

So let's measure a blood pressure manually to do that we want to make sure a patient is sitting down

What is the best way to check blood pressure at home? ›

With the cuff on your bare arm, sit in an upright position with back supported, feet flat on the floor and your arm supported at heart level. Make sure the bottom of the cuff is directly above the bend of the elbow. Relax for about five minutes before taking a measurement.

How can I check my blood pressure at home with my fingers? ›

Place the fingers on the inside of the wrist to locate the pulse. Now, take two fingers (preferably index and middle fingers) and place them just below the wrist creases on the thumb side of the hand. A strong pulse felt at the wrist correlates to a systolic blood pressure of at least 80 mmHg.

What are the steps to take manual blood pressure? ›

If you are using a manual monitor:
  1. Hold the pressure gauge in your left hand and the bulb in your right.
  2. Close the airflow valve on the bulb by turning the screw clockwise.
  3. Inflate the cuff by squeezing the bulb with your right hand. ...
  4. Watch the gauge.
6 May 2021

What is normal BP range? ›

As a general guide: ideal blood pressure is considered to be between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg. high blood pressure is considered to be 140/90mmHg or higher. low blood pressure is considered to be 90/60mmHg or lower.

When should you not take your blood pressure? ›

You can prepare for the day, but don't eat breakfast or take medications before measuring your blood pressure. If you exercise after waking, take your blood pressure before exercising. Avoid food, caffeine, tobacco and alcohol for 30 minutes before taking a reading. Also, empty your bladder first.

What creates high BP? ›

What causes high blood pressure? High blood pressure usually develops over time. It can happen because of unhealthy lifestyle choices, such as not getting enough regular physical activity. Certain health conditions, such as diabetes and having obesity, can also increase the risk for developing high blood pressure.

What symptoms do high blood pressure cause? ›

If your blood pressure is extremely high, there may be certain symptoms to look out for, including:
  • Severe headaches.
  • Nosebleed.
  • Fatigue or confusion.
  • Vision problems.
  • Chest pain.
  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Irregular heartbeat.
  • Blood in the urine.

What time of day is blood pressure highest? ›

Blood pressure has a daily pattern. Usually, blood pressure starts to rise a few hours before a person wakes up. It continues to rise during the day, peaking in midday. Blood pressure typically drops in the late afternoon and evening.

What time of day is blood pressure lowest? ›

Blood pressure changes throughout the day. Your blood pressure is typically at its lowest right after waking up. It tends to vary by up to 30% across the day. This is because of hormone changes, activity level, and eating.

How do I overcome my fear of blood pressure? ›

Overcoming white coat syndrome
  1. Relax. If you're feeling anxious or worried when you sit down to have your blood pressure measured, ask the doctor or nurse to wait a bit so you can calm down.
  2. Move to a different area. ...
  3. Practice stress relief. ...
  4. Change the conversation.

Is there a way to take blood pressure without a cuff? ›

Several BP measuring devices have recently become commercially available that can measure BP without a cuff, giving patients a more user-friendly alternative to the traditional cuff (Table 1).

Can you test your blood pressure without a machine? ›

The most accurate way to measure blood pressure is using a sphygmomanometer (blood pressure cuff or machine) and stethoscope. While there are ways you can check your blood pressure at home using only your pulse and no equipment, these methods are unreliable and not recommended.

Is finger blood pressure accurate? ›

Don't buy one that works on the wrist, and definitely avoid finger blood pressure monitors, since they are especially unreliable. A good device costs between $40-$60, although models with additional features are pricier.

Is there a way to check blood pressure without a cuff? ›

A more simple and user-friendly BP measurement device would enable more widespread use of BPT in hypertension management (13). Several BP measuring devices have recently become commercially available that can measure BP without a cuff, giving patients a more user-friendly alternative to the traditional cuff (Table 1).

Can you do a manual BP on yourself? ›

You can also measure your blood pressure manually. This is a more complicated option. You'll need a blood pressure cuff with a squeezable balloon and an aneroid monitor as well as a stethoscope in order to measure your blood pressure this way.

How do you know if your blood pressure is high or low? ›

Healthy: A healthy blood pressure reading is less than 120/80 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). Elevated: The systolic number is between 120 and 129 mm Hg, and the diastolic number is less than 80 mm Hg. Doctors usually don't treat elevated blood pressure with medication.

How do you use a sphygmomanometer to check blood pressure without a stethoscope? ›

Position arm so cuff is at heart level. With the first three fingers, find the radial pulse. Inflate the cuff to about 30 mmHg above the pressure at which the pulse disappears. Deflate the cuff slowly.

Videos

1. How to Take a Blood Pressure Manually | The Correct Way!
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2. Taking a Blood Pressure by Palpation
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3. How To Take Blood Pressure Correctly
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4. How to Take a Blood Pressure Manually
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5. How to Take a Blood Pressure Measurement (Systolic and Diastolic Sounds) Nursing Clinical Skill
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6. How to measure blood pressure accurately
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