These Simple Mistake Could Be Giving You an Incorrect Blood Pressure Reading
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Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of the arteries that carry the blood from your heart to other parts of your body. While your blood pressure levels normally rise and fall throughout the day, constant high levels, called hypertension, can damage your heart and cause a variety of health problems.
Take preventative measures by getting your blood pressure tested. But watch out! The American Heart Association has recently released information that says your measurements can come back completely wrong due to a few common mistakes. Here’s what you need to know.
What is a normal blood pressure reading?
Your blood pressure is recorded as two numbers – systolic (the one on top) measures how much pressure your blood is exerting against your artery walls when your heart beats and diastolic (the one at the bottom) measures how much pressure your blood is exerting against your artery walls while the heart is resting between beets.
The American Heart Association reports that your blood pressure is within a normal range when it is less than 120/80 mmHg. It is elevated when the systolic pressure is between 120 and 129 and the diastolic pressure is less than 80 mmHg.
Last November, the AHA changed its high blood pressure (Hypertension Stage 1) guidelines by 10 mmHg and established a new threshold for diagnosing high blood pressure at 130/80. That change was enough to classify “nearly half of all Americans as having high blood pressure.”
Systolic numbers 140 and above are considered Hypertension Stage 2 and Hypertensive crisis. See the chart here!
So, what are you doing wrong?
When you are at the doctor getting your blood pressure tested, it is common that you are sitting on the exam table, dangling your feet off of the edge and talking to the nurse or medical assistant. She or he may attach the blood pressure cuff onto the top of your shirt sleeve instead of your bare arm. But the AHA says this is all wrong and it could actually “push your reading high enough to quality for medication that might not be needed.”
According to the AHA’s website, common mistakes include:
- Wrong posture. “Both feet need to rest on the ground or a stool. The back needs to be supported, as well as the arm, which should be propped at heart level.”
- Failing to rest before taking a measurement. “Sitting quitely for about 5 minutes can help relax the body.”
- Placing the cuff over clothing. “Depending on the thickness of the sleeve, clothing can add up to 50 mmHg to a reading. The blood pressure cuff needs to be place on a bare arm.”
- Using the wrong sized cuff. “Squeezing an arm in to a cuff that’s too small can add anywhere between 2 mmHg and 10 mmHg to a measurement.”
- Engaging in conversation. “Avoid the small talk. Even active listening can add 10 mmHg.”
Dr. Raymond Townsend, a nephrologist, teamed up with Dr. Michael Rakotz, the vice president of health outcomes for the American Medical Association to implement a “blood pressure check challenge” to nearly 160 medical students during the 2015 AMA annual meeting. Only one student performed all 11 measurement elements correctly.
Townsend reports, “Of all things that we do in clinical medicine, what is the single most important difference we can make to help someone live longer and live free of target organ damage? There’s only one answer – to measure and treat blood pressure correctly.”