High Blood Pressure

Symptoms and Diagnosis

High blood pressure is often called the "silent killer" because you can have it for years without knowing it. The only way to find out if you have high blood pressure is to have your blood pressure measured.

How Blood Pressure Is Checked

Most doctors will check your blood pressure several times on different days before making a diagnosis. Only if you have several readings of 140/90 mmHg or higher (or 130/80 mmHg or higher if you have diabetes or chronic kidney disease), will your doctor diagnose you with high blood pressure

Having your blood pressure measured is quick and easy. Your doctor or nurse will use some type of gauge, a stethoscope or electronic sensor, and a blood pressure cuff.

Preparing for the Test

You should be sitting down and relaxed when your blood pressure is taken. There are other things you can do to prepare for the test.

Write Down Your Readings

Ask the doctor or nurse to tell you your blood pressure reading in numbers and to explain what the numbers mean. Write down your numbers or ask the doctor or nurse to write them down for you. (The wallet card on the right can be printed out and used to record your blood pressure numbers.)

Checking Your Own Blood Pressure

You can also check your blood pressure at home with a home blood pressure measurement device or monitor. It is important that the blood pressure cuff fits you properly and that you understand how to use the monitor. A cuff that is too small, for example, can give you a reading that is higher than your actual blood pressure. Your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist can help you check the cuff size and teach you how to use it correctly. You may also ask for their help in choosing the right blood pressure monitor for you. Blood pressure monitors can be bought at discount chain stores and drug stores.

When you are taking your blood pressure at home, sit with your back supported and your feet flat on the floor. Rest your arm on a table at the level of your heart.

After a Diagnosis

If you're diagnosed with high blood pressure, your doctor will prescribe treatment. Your blood pressure will be tested again to see how the treatment affects it.

Once your blood pressure is under control, you'll still need treatment. "Under control" means that your blood pressure numbers are in the normal range. Your doctor will likely recommend routine blood pressure tests. He or she can tell you how often you should be tested.

The sooner you find out about high blood pressure and treat it, the better. Early treatment may help you avoid problems such as heart attack, stroke and kidney failure.

See tips for talking with your doctor after you receive a medical diagnosis.