Blood Pressure Reading Basics

Knowing how the human heart works and what it does helps when it comes time to obtain a blood pressure reading, whether obtained from a physician or yourself. The heart, or cardiac muscle, pumps blood throughout the circulatory system by blood pressure. Without blood pressure, valuable, oxygenated blood wouldn't reach every cell in the human body, including the tissues at the bottom of your little toe. Without blood pressure, de-oxygenated blood wouldn't make it back to your heart and lungs, where it's once again filled with life-giving oxygen.
A blood pressure reading is possible when a person, using a blood pressure reading cuff, can hear the heart muscle pump in a rhythmic, two-part pattern that results in what is called systolic and diastolic pressure. When the heart engages in the actual pumping motion, pressure in the arteries increases, called systolic pressure. Diastolic pressure is the moment between beats, when the heart muscle relaxes.

While many people have a different blood pressure reading, and a range of 120 beats per minute or lower, systolic pressure is considered normal. A range of 70-80 beats per minutes, diastolic is considered normal. Athletes, active people and those in good all around physical condition usually have a blood pressure reading within this range.

To obtain a blood pressure reading, a special cuff is placed around the left arm, between the elbow and the shoulder. The left side is preferred when obtaining a blood pressure reading because the flow of blood is strongest on that side of the body. A stethoscope is then placed beneath the cuff and over the brachial artery. By puffing up the cuff, pressure against the artery is increased, effectively halting blood blow for a few moments.

When the pressure is released, the physician or technician will be able to listen to the return of blood flow to the arm. When systolic pressure is regained, a very audible 'blub' will be heard, which will indicate the systolic pressure of your heartbeat. The lower, or diastolic blood pressure reading, is obtained when definitive beating sounds are heard in the stethoscope.

This procedure is painless and can be performed by any individual with a moderate amount of practice, especially those at home who take their own blood pressure reading.

When in the doctor's office, it's possible for patients to estimate their own blood pressure reading by watching the mercury bubble that's attached to the blood pressure cuff assembly. As the physician pumps up the cuff, the silver mercury ball will rise in the glass tube.

Generally, the cuff is inflated above what is considered a normal range blood pressure, but don't be alarmed. When the doctor ceases to inflate the cuff and releases the air pressure, the mercury ball starts to drop. At the first sign of return to systolic pressure, the mercury ball will bounce slightly. While you can't hear it, that's the point when the physician is obtaining a systolic blood pressure reading.

The ball will continue to fall, with slight 'bouncing' movements to indicate heartbeats. When you no longer see the mercury ball bounce is the point when a diastolic blood pressure reading has been reached.

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