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Blood Pressure Readings 101

Do you sit in silence for five minutes with your arm supported before getting your blood pressure reading? If you can’t remember this ever happening, you are not alone. Blood pressure readings are as routine as weight and height measurements but require more finesse than the latter. There are far more variables to getting one’s blood pressure values taken than one might think.

A pair of doctor's hands is using a blood pressure cuff on a patient's arm on table with a clipboard and pen.

The spotlight on taking accurate blood pressure readings is relevant.  In 2017, the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology released new hypertension guidelines. Previously, the standard reading was 140/90. Now, a new target of 130 for systolic blood pressure and 80 for diastolic blood pressure is currently in use.1 If your blood pressure tops 130/80, you are considered to have hypertension (high blood pressure). Hypertension is considered the silent killer and after this shift in guidelines, it was estimated that among those aged 45 to 75 years old, 15 million more Americans were diagnosed with it.2

Lower thresholds for diagnosing high blood pressure have affected a greater number of Americans, including youth. New guidelines mean more people have been recommended medications and increases in other therapies like the DASH eating plan.3  

Taking accurate readings is all the more important to ensure there aren’t falsely high or low readings, and treatments are tailored accurately to the patient. The American Heart Association has compiled a list of to-do’s and things to avoid when getting your blood pressure taken with your provider, or if you self-monitor your blood pressure at home.4

  • Don’t smoke, drink caffeine or alcohol, or exercise within 30 minutes of the reading.
  • Relax silently in a chair for 5 minutes with your arm resting on a flat surface at heart level.
  • Sit with your feet flat on the floor, with your back supported and straight. Place the bottom of the blood pressure cuff above the crook of your elbow.
  • Roll up your sleeves so that the cuff sits on bare skin.
  • Empty your bladder before your reading.
  • Use well-calibrated instruments that have been checked for accuracy.
  • Take two readings at least 1 minute apart. Record all results.

Setting yourself up for success is a rule that applies to your health as well. Happy blood pressure reading!

The SEARHC WISEWOMAN Women’s Health Program provides blood pressure cuffs for at-home readings to its patients. Call 1.888.388.8782 for eligibility information. At Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital in Sitka, SEARHC offers a hypertension clinic available to all patients. Please call 1.907.966.8819 for more information.



1. 2017 ACC/AHA/AAPA/ABC/ACPM/AGS/APhA/ASH/ASPC/NMA/PCNA Guideline for the Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Management of High Blood Pressure in Adults

2. Article from NPR: https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/11/14/564038552/with-stricter-guidelines-do-you-have-high-blood-pressure-now

3. Dash Eating Plan website: https://medlineplus.gov/dasheatingplan.html

4. American Heart Association BP Measurement Instructions: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/understanding-blood-pressure-readings/monitoring-your-blood-pressure-at-home

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