What is a blood pressure test, how to test it & what does it show?  

Blood pressure is an important part of our general health. It relates to the amount of force pushing on the sides of the arteries as the blood is being pumped around the body. A blood pressure test can determine whether your blood pressure is higher or lower than average, which is sometimes an indication of other conditions. This is a common routine test and an important way of monitoring the health of your heart and arteries.

This guide highlights what a blood pressure test is and how it is undertaken; as well as detail why it is important and what the results may mean.

What is a blood pressure test?

A blood pressure test often involves using a device called a sphygmomanometer, which is attached to the upper arm to measure blood pressure. The device is composed of an arm cuff, a pump, a dial, and a stethoscope.

In order to achieve the most accurate results possible, it is recommended that the person taking the test is:

  • Sitting down with their legs uncrossed and back supported.
  • Not wearing long sleeves or has them rolled up.
  • Fully relaxed and not talking during the test.

The test itself is carried out as follows:

  • The person taking the test has one arm held out at heart level, supported by a cushion or arm of a chair.
  • The sphygmomanometer’s cuff is placed around the arm.
  • The cuff is pumped, squeezing the arm to restrict the blood flow (this may cause mild discomfort but only lasts a few seconds).
  • The cuff is deflated to slowly release the arm while a stethoscope is used to listen to the pulse (or in other devices, sensors detect vibrations in the arteries).

The test usually doesn’t take more than a minute and the results are given straight away by your healthcare professional or on the sphygmomanometer’s display. You can learn about your results by referring to our high blood pressure conditions guide, which explains the different types of readings and what they mean.

What does a blood pressure test show?

A blood pressure test is used to show whether a person’s blood pressure is too high or too low.

Hypotension refers to blood pressure that is lower than normal. Although a routine finding of hypotension is not usually indicate an underlying serious condition, it may cause fainting and dizziness. On the other hand, hypertension refers to blood pressure that is higher than normal, which can cause an unnecessary strain on organs and arteries. This can sometimes result in more serious health problems such as strokes and heart attacks. High blood pressure does not usually present any obvious symptoms; therefore being tested is important and may prevent serious problems in the future.

You can find more information on high blood pressure and how to lower it here.

How long does a blood pressure test take?

From start to finish, a blood pressure test takes approximately 1 minute. This makes it a very rapid way to monitor our heart health.

Why does the doctor check your blood pressure?

A blood pressure test is a common, routine procedure that should be undertaken regularly to monitor our heart health. In fact, ensuring that our blood pressure is normal is essential to minimise risks of potentially serious complications.

It is recommended to have blood pressure tests regularly so that any potential issues can be detected early and treated effectively. The recommended frequency of this test depends on age and risk level:

Age and risk factor Recommended blood pressure test frequency
Adults aged 18 and over – with normal blood pressure / no heart disease risk factors Once every 2 to 5 years
Adults aged 18 and over – with increased risk of high blood pressure or heart disease Yearly

Those at a higher risk may want, in conjunction with their doctor, to monitor their blood pressure regularly at home. This can be done using user friendly home monitors and some of these can even be connected to a phone or computer to transfer the data to your online medical record.

When should you be concerned about blood pressure?

It is estimated that about a third of adults in the UK have high blood pressure, and many are undiagnosed due to the lack of symptoms. Even though the causes aren’t always clear, there are certain factors that can increase your risk:

  • Obesity
  • Age 65+
  • Lack of exercise
  • Smoking
  • Diets rich in salt and lacking fruit and vegetables
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Family history of high blood pressure
  • Black African or black Caribbean descent

Therefore, it is recommended that you check your blood pressure regularly if you fall into one or more of the above categories. Blood pressure that is consistently high may lead to life-threatening conditions including heart attacks, strokes, peripheral arterial disease (PAD), kidney disease, vascular dementia, aortic aneurysms and heart failure.

The good news is that there is medicine available to regulate high blood pressure, and making healthy lifestyle changes can also help in lowering your blood pressure. You can refer to our high blood pressure conditions guide to find out more.

How can I get a blood pressure test?

At your GP’s

GPs may have sphygmomanometers (machines measuring blood pressure machines) available for patients to measure their blood pressure themselves. You will be able to see your reading on screen and have it interpreted by your GP or practice nurse. Alternatively you can ask your GP or practice nurse to check your blood pressure.

If you would prefer a more detailed test providing you with additional key health measures and a detailed results report, you can opt for a Health MOT test at a Bluecrest clinic instead.

At a Bluecrest clinic

At Bluecrest, we offer a range of packages that include blood pressure tests, so you can easily assess and monitor your blood pressure and act accordingly.

You can book a health check with one of our Certified Healthcare professionals at one of over 2,000 mobile clinics nationwide. All of our Health MOT Packages include a blood pressure test, in addition to a wide array of health markers for a detailed view of your health. You can choose between 3 levels of testing to suit your own personal needs.