The cuff is placed around the upper arm and inflated with an air pump to a pressure that blocks the flow of blood in the main artery that travels through the arm. The arm is held at the side of the body at the level of the heart, and the pressure of the cuff is gradually released. As the pressure decreases, a health practitioner listens with a stethoscope over the artery at the front of the elbow or an electronic machine senses the pulsation. The pressure at which the practitioner (or machine) first hears a pulsation from the artery is the systolic pressure (the top number). As the cuff pressure decreases further, the pressure at which the pulsation finally stops is the diastolic pressure (the bottom number).
If elevated blood pressure levels are accompanied by diabetes, kidney disease, or cardiovascular disease, your doctor may suggest blood pressure medication as well lifestyle changes. If elevated levels are your only condition, lifestyle changes can help prevent blood pressure from rising. The following are lifestyle changes that may help lower blood pressure:
A reduction from 8% to 6% of cardiovascular events is known as an absolute risk reduction of 2%. This may seem small, but the translation is not small when applied to real world people. This can be understood more easily as something called “number needed to treat” which is calculated by 1 divided by the absolute risk reduction. In this case, an absolute risk reduction of 2% translates to a “number needed to treat” of 50 (1 divided by 0.02 = 50). This means that 50 people need to have a BP down to < 120/80 in order for 1 cardiovascular event to be prevented. In the context of many other things we do in our life (medical treatment or not), this is really good!
If your blood pressure is above the normal range for up to 5 readings (taken at different visits), your doctor will likely diagnose you with high blood pressure. Sometimes the doctor may diagnose you after a fewer number of readings, depending on how high above normal your blood pressure is and if you have other medical conditions. Blood pressure tends to be at its highest during exercise, physical work, or stress, and lowest during sleep. Everyone can have a temporary increase in blood pressure at one time or another, which is why it's important to take multiple readings.
With low blood pressure, the patient may feel faint or lose consciousness. This is due to lack of blood flow to the brain, and usually laying the patient supine will help them come round. This is also known as a blackout, and it could be accompanied by a dizzy feeling and light-headedness. Generally, your patient will report trouble focusing, difficulty keeping upright and lack of coordination.
Blood pressure monitors for use at home can be bought at drug stores, department stores, and other places. Again, these monitors may not always give you a correct reading. You should always compare your machine’s reading with a reading from your doctor’s machine to make sure they are the same. Remember that any measurement above normal should prompt a visit to the doctor, who can then talk with you about the best course of action.
Health issues may happen; however, when a person's blood pressure suddenly drops and their brain is deprived of an adequate blood supply. The condition may lead to lightheadedness or dizziness. A sudden drop in blood pressure usually happens in a person who has risen from a prone or sitting position to a standing one. When this occurs it is referred to as, 'orthostatic hypotension,' or, 'postural hypotension.' Another type of low blood pressure may happen when a person stands for extended periods of time; it is referred to as, 'neurally mediated hypotension.'
Stress reduction techniques such as biofeedback or transcendental meditation may be considered as an add-on to other treatments to reduce hypertension, but do not have evidence for preventing cardiovascular disease on their own. Self-monitoring and appointment reminders might support the use of other strategies to improve blood pressure control, but need further evaluation.