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|How Is High Blood Pressure Diagnosed?
You can find out if you have high blood pressure (hypertension) by having blood pressure readings carried out regularly. Doctors will only diagnosis the condition after 2 or more readings, taken on different days, have been consistently high. If you have received one high reading and been told to come back in a few days for another check, there is no need to panic quite yet. There are lots of normal blood pressure variations - it is not uncommon for a healthy person to have high blood pressure (bp) on a single day and for it to return to normal the next. This doesn't mean you have hypertension. It is only if your bp remains consistently high will you be diagnosed with the condition. As the symptoms of hypertension are often silent (but deadly if unchecked), many people who receive a diagnosis are often taken by surprise because they feel perfectly healthy. For this reason it is recommended that all healthy adults over the age of 40 have their bp checked every 2 years.
Getting your bp checked is fast, easy and painless. Most doctors still use a traditional instrument called the sphygmomanometer. This has a blood pressure cuff which is wrapped around your arm above the elbow. It is attached to a pressure gauge to measure the pressure of your blood as the cuff is squeezed tighter. The doctor will also use a stethoscope to listen to your blood flow. Once the test is over you will be given your reading as two numbers: systolic pressure over diastolic pressure. For example, the doctor might say your pressure is 120 over 180, which is written as 120/80. Systolic measures the pressure caused by the heart pumping and diastolic measures the heart at rest. While both numbers are important, the systolic pressure is particularly important to monitor as we age.
Your doctor may tell you that you have white coat hypertension. This is high blood pressure caused by the anxiety of going to the doctor's (white coat) office for a checkup. The idea is that the stress and anxiety caused by the visit temporarily raises your bp (many people find the sterile exam room and smells of disinfectant distressing). By contrast, if you were to use a home blood pressure monitor in the comfort of your sitting room, your level might be quite normal because you are more relaxed. To avoid this scenario, arrive early before your appointment and try to relax for at least 5 minutes before seeing to your doctor.
While they are useful for self-monitoring between routine visits to your doctor, never rely on their results alone. The machines may not be serviced regularly and the results can be affected by wear and tear. If you use one of these units it should give you a printout at the end of the test, this is worth saving and showing to your doctor on your next visit.
If you are diagnosed with hypertension your doctor will perform a full physical examination to determine the extent of damage to your heart and to check for possible underlying causes. She may:
|Related Articles on Diagnosing Hypertension
For more related issues, see the following:
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