Blood pressure measurement is a routine examination, in which the pressure exerted by the blood onto the walls of blood vessels is measured. This pressure is referred to as the blood pressure. Each time the heart contracts, blood is pumped through the vessels. With each heartbeat, the blood pressure varies between a maximum and a minimum pressure.
Blood pressure measurement provides lots of useful information about the condition of the heart and blood vessels. High blood pressure is a risk factor for heart disease, but a blood pressure which is constantly too low, isn’t good as well.
The blood pressure varies from person to person and even from moment to moment. The value of the blood pressure is shown in millimeters of mercury, abbreviated mmHg. Two values are always measured:
- Maximum (systolic) blood pressure: the pressure in the blood vessels at the moment when the heart contracts.
- Minimum (diastolic) blood pressure: the pressure in the blood vessels at the moment when the heart relaxes.
Blood pressure is measured with a sphygmomanometer. This is made up of a cuff, which is connected to a pressure meter and a stethoscope. The cuff is placed around the upper arm and slowly inflated, so that the blood flow in the arm is more and more hampered. While inflating the cuff, the doctor feels the pulse. Once the pulse is no longer perceptible, the doctor reads the value on the pressure meter (maximum pressure). Then, the doctor releases air until certain tones have completely disappeared. That moment represents the minimum pressure. Blood pressure measurement is simple, painless and takes little time.
Normal blood pressure measurement is a snapshot, whereby the result may be distorted by circumstances. This limitation is captured by the 24-hour measurement. Here, blood pressure will be measured with special equipment a day long at regular intervals.
- The first sphygmomanometer with cuff was developed in 1896 by the Italian doctor Scipione Riva-Rocci.
- Another word for blood pressure is ‘tension’, which is derived from the Latin word tensio (stretching, muscle contraction).
- A blood pressure with a maximum around 120 mmHg and a minimum around 80 mmHg (shown as 120/80 mmHg) is considered to be optimal.
- For people older than 60 years, maximum pressure may be somewhat higher.