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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