Taking Blood Pressure
Blood pressure is one of the vital signs measured on a person's body to get an overall picture of health and is very important. Blood pressure that is too high or too low can lead to other health problems and diseases, including heart attacks or strokes. Blood pressure is a measure of the amount of pressure the circulating (moving) blood puts on the walls of the arteries as it pushes against them.
Just as water flows through a garden hose, blood circulates throughout our bodies in our veins and arteries. If a hose is partly filled with mud or sand, more pressure is needed to push the water through. In the same way, if our veins become partly blocked, then the heart has to work harder to push the blood through causing a potentially dangerous increase in blood pressure.
The tool used to measure blood pressure is called a sphygmomanometer and includes a cuff and a gauge. The cuff has an inflatable rubber 'bladder' inside. When pumped up and filled with air, the cuff becomes tighter and tighter on a person's arm. The gauge is a round, clock-like device with numbers and a needle. As the pump inflates, the needle on the number gauge moves.
At the sound of the first heartbeat, the number that the gauge needle is pointing to is noted as the top number and is the systolic pressure. This number for an adult should be less than 120. At the sound of the last heartbeat (when the cuff deflates), the bottom number, the diastolic pressure, is recorded. This number for an adult should be less than 80. Higher numbers on the top or bottom may indicate problems.
Healthy lifestyle habits such as eating lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein, as well as getting plenty of exercise, enough sleep, and also keeping stress levels as low as possible, can help to keep blood pressure within a healthy range. When these healthful habits aren't enough to keep blood pressure under control, medications prescribed by a physician might become necessary.