How to Properly Place a BP Cuff and Get an Accurate Reading

Updated on February 1, 2018
d.william profile image

I am a retired RN of over 40 years, and I want to share what I've learned to help you take control of your own health care.

What You Must Know Before Starting Any Medications

Before you start taking any medications for hypertension, or high blood pressure, make sure that whoever is measuring your blood pressure does it accurately.

Let's start with your doctor's office visit.

Everyone gets nervous, anxious, tense, and apprehensive when they visit their doctor for any exam, procedure, or routine checkup. These emotions will automatically make your resting blood pressure higher than it normally is. It is important to remain calm while also being aware of what's going on around you.

The following are things you should keep an eye on while your blood pressure is being measured.

The cuff should never be placed over clothing. Doing so can give a false reading.
The cuff should never be placed over clothing. Doing so can give a false reading. | Source

Watch the Person Taking Your Blood Pressure Closely

The technique is extremely important and can give a false reading if not done correctly.

  1. A blood pressure cuff should never be placed over clothing.
    • It should always be placed directly on the skin to give an accurate reading.
  2. Know where the stethoscope is supposed to be placed on your arm.
    • This only applies if your pressure is taken the old-fashioned way—with a sphygmomanometer.
    • Feel around the crease of your arm until you can feel a heartbeat.
    • Mark the spot with a pen if you think you will forget by the time you get to the doctor's office.
    • This is where the nurse or doctor should place the stethoscope.
    • If they are not on the spot, kindly inform them of the spot.
    • The spot is not in the exact same place for everyone.
  3. It's generally best to measure on your left arm unless otherwise contra-indicated.
    • This is because you'll be closer to your heart.
  4. Observe how the cuff is placed around your arm.
    • The bottom edge of the cuff should be just above the bend of the arm.
    • More importantly, the cuff should be gently, but firmly, wrapped around the arm. There should be enough room to slide a finger between the cuff and your arm.
    • If it's too loose, you'll get a false high reading. If it's too tight, you'll get a false low reading.
  5. Always keep in mind that the person taking your blood pressure can be the deciding factor as to whether the doctor will prescribe blood pressure medications or not.

After Your Measurement, Wait One Week Before Proceeding

Remember that it is ultimately your decision whether or not to take medication. Unless you have obvious symptoms of high blood pressure (e.g. pressure in your head, blurred vision, severe headaches, dizziness, ringing in your ears, etc.), you should let your doctor know that you want to wait a week before deciding. This is so that you can confirm that the reading is representative of your actual blood pressure and not altered due to being nervous or anxious.

If you don't own the necessary equipment to take your own measurements, you can borrow them from a friend or buy them from a local pharmacy. Some pharmacies also have machines available for public use.

Take your blood pressure at least once a day, at the same time each day, and on the same arm. It may not be practical, but ideally, you would measure twice a day—once in the morning and once in the afternoon. This will give you a better sense of what your average or typical blood pressure from day to day.

This reading is on the lower end of the normal range and on the verge of hypotension (low blood pressure).
This reading is on the lower end of the normal range and on the verge of hypotension (low blood pressure).

What Is the Normal Blood Pressure Range

The normal range is defined as readings between 120/80-140/90, although "normal" can vary from person to person. Check with other members of your family and with your doctor to determine what "normal" is for you. If you're in this range, you do not have hypertension, but you should consider lowering it through diet, exercise, and other lifestyle changes.

Weight management is an important component of healthy blood pressure—losing excess weight can significantly lower your blood pressure. Losing weight is also preferred over taking medications.

What to Do if You Need Blood Pressure Medication

If it is determined that you, in fact, do need blood pressure medication

  • Always ask how the medication works to lower blood pressure.
  • Know the side effects of your prescription(s).

Keep your Doctor Informed

Always inform your doctor about all medications you are taking.

Although medicine can be life-saving at times and can help you live a longer and healthier life, they can also harm you if used improperly. They can interact with other medications—including any over-the-counter medications. The interactions can alter the intended effects, making them stronger or weaker, or negate them altogether.

Ask your doctor and/or pharmacist about any interactions that might take place.

Know Who You Can Trust

Most drug manufacturers are in the business of making money.

They are not too concerned about the side effects or whether you really need these drugs at all.

99% of all medications are now being made outside this country, and the FDA cannot and does not inspect every batch of medication imported into the United States—in spite of its claims to closely monitor imported goods.

So, my friends, be careful. Take responsibility for your own healthcare and wellbeing by being an informed consumer, and enjoy your life.

Live each day as if it is your last one.

Have a sense of humor—humor can be found in any situation. Laughter is the best medicine for stress and anxiety. Stress is lessened when you do not keep things bottled up inside yourself. Remember to always speak your mind: those that matter don't mind, and those that do mind—don't matter.

© 2010 d.william

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    • d.william profile image
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      d.william 2 years ago from Somewhere in the south

      Joe: you make a good point and that probably accounts for the lack of some of the comments. However, as i have found, there are errors on posting comments (or there were) a few years ago when changes were made to Hubpages. I lost some of the comments altogether, and there were obviously comments on some of the articles that were not even related to the article at all. They seem to have been meant to have been written on an entirely different article. That problem seems to have been corrected now.

    • d.william profile image
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      d.william 2 years ago from Somewhere in the south

      Zach: Sorry for the delay in responding to your comments. They are always appreciated. I was a nurse for more than 40 years and have learned many nuances that are not taught in nursing/medical school. And one of them is that there is a subtle difference between the BP readings on the left and on the right arms. This is because, since the heart is on the left side of the chest, the pressure is stronger on the left side of the heart and thereby causing the BP to be higher on the left than on the right. It may be a nominal difference but when meds are prescribed for high blood pressure, it is imperative to make sure that BP readings are accurate. So, if there is an indication of high BP (or low BP) one should always check the BP on both sides for a more accurate diagnosis.

      The other misnomer is that it is OK to take someone's BP over clothing. It is not OK.

    • profile image

      Joe 3 years ago

      its because no one wants to start an account just to leave a comment.

    • profile image

      Zach 3 years ago

      The right arm versus left arm statement is inaccurate. If your blood pressure varies between your arms, there may be some type of arterial occlusion. Just feel both of your pulses... are they equal? Are both of your extremities the same temperature? There should be the same perfusion to each side, or else we would have big problems. I'm a nursing education specialist.

    • d.william profile image
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      d.william 3 years ago from Somewhere in the south

      David:

      thanks for reading and leaving your comments. Too many people are on BP meds that they probably do not need because of inaccurate readings in the doctor's office, plus the fact that everyone's BP is elevated when they visit the Doctor's office in the first place. It is not exactly the most calming place to visit.

      David

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      David Rose 4 years ago

      Thank you. I found the advice on the snugness level of the BP cuff something that I had not considered.

    • profile image

      blood pressure machine 4 years ago

      I am very happy to read your articles it’s very useful for me, 

      and I am completely satisfied with your website. 

      All comments and articles are very useful and very good.

      Your blog is very attention-grabbing. I am loving all of the in.

      turn you are sharing with each one!….

    • profile image

      blood pressure machine 4 years ago

      I am very happy to read your articles it’s very useful for me, 

      and I am completely satisfied with your website. 

      All comments and articles are very useful and very good.

      Your blog is very attention-grabbing. I am loving all of the in.

      turn you are sharing with each one!….

    • d.william profile image
      Author

      d.william 5 years ago from Somewhere in the south

      I am leaving a comment on my own hub to see if there is something awry. It is rather odd that there have been nearly 1500 readers of this article and not one comment. That is quite remarkable in it self. For those of you who read this, i thank you and welcome your comments.

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