How High Blood Pressure is Diagnosed

Updated:Oct 31,2016

A Test For Good Measure - it can save your life

What’s the best way to diagnose HBP?
117/76The best way to diagnose high blood pressure (HBP or hypertension) is to have your blood pressure measured.

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:

  • 120/80Systolic blood pressure (the top number) — indicates how much pressure your blood is exerting against your artery walls 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.

AHA recommendation

  • If your blood pressure is normal (less than 120/80 mm Hg), your blood pressure should be screened during regular healthcare visits at least once every two years for anyone 20 years of age or older.

If your blood pressure reading is higher than normal

  • Your doctor may take several readings over time and/or have you monitor your blood pressure at home before diagnosing you with high blood pressure.
  • A single high reading does not mean that you have high blood pressure. But, if your readings continue to stay high, your doctor will most likely want you to begin a treatment program.

If you are diagnosed with high blood pressure


Learn more
Get the high blood pressure fact sheet. [English | Spanish]
Use the high blood pressure risk calculator.
Check out all the high blood pressure tools and resources.
 

This content was last reviewed October 2016.