High Blood Pressure Tests and Diagnosis
Your blood pressure can be measured via an inflatable arm cuff and a pressure-measuring gauge. The blood pressure reading, displayed in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg), will have two numbers. The upper number shows the pressure in your arteries as your heart beats (known as your systolic pressure). The lower number shows the pressure in your arteries between heart beats (called your diastolic pressure).
As far as possible measurements go, they could fall into one of four categories:
- Normal Blood Pressure: If it’s below 120/80 mm Hg, then your blood pressure is normal. Although, some health care experts recommend shooting for 115/75 mm Hg. Once your blood pressure gets above that level, your risk for heart disease begins to grow.
- Prehypertension: If you have a systolic pressure ranging from 120 to 139 mm Hg or a diastolic pressure ranging from 80 to 89 mm Hg, then you have prehypertension. Unfortunately, there aren’t any symptoms, and prehypertension usually gets worse.
- Stage 1 Hypertension: Once your blood pressure has hit 140/90 mm Hg, then you have developed stage 1 hypertension.
- Stage 2 Hypertension: The more severe form of hypertension, stage 2 hypertension is a blood pressure of at least 160/100 mm Hg or higher.
As you might have guessed, it’s important to pay attention to both numbers in a blood pressure reading. After age 50, the systolic reading becomes more significant. The most common form of hypertension in people that age is isolated systolic hypertension (diastolic pressure is normal but systolic is high).
In order to diagnose you with high blood pressure, your doctor may need to take at least two readings each visit over several appointments. Your blood pressure will naturally fluctuate throughout the day, and this could lead to an issue called white-coat hypertension (high blood pressure during doctor visits). In some cases, your doctor may need you to take readings at home or work to provide additional information.
If you are living with some form of high blood pressure, your doctor might schedule routine tests, including urine tests and an electrocardiogram (ECG) – a test that measures the electrical activity of the heart. Your doctor could also recommend additional tests, like a cholesterol test, in order to rule out other signs of cardiovascular disease.
Test Your Blood Pressure at Home
If you are interested in testing how well your hypertension treatment is working without having to visit your doctor, you can monitor your blood pressure at home. There are a variety of home blood pressure monitors available, and prescriptions are not required. If you are interested, ask your doctor to help you get started.