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How Is High Blood Pressure Diagnosed?

High blood pressure (HBP) is diagnosed using a blood pressure test. This test will be done several times to make sure the results are correct. If your numbers are high, your doctor may have you return for repeat tests to check your blood pressure over time.

If your blood pressure is 140/90 mmHg or higher over time, your doctor will likely diagnose you with HBP. If you have diabetes or chronic kidney disease, a blood pressure of 130/80 mmHg or higher is considered HBP.

The ranges for HBP in children are different, as discussed below.

How Is Blood Pressure Tested?

A blood pressure test is easy and painless. This test is done at a doctor's office or clinic.

To prepare for the test:

  • Don't drink coffee or smoke cigarettes for 30 minutes prior to the test. These actions may cause a short-term rise in your blood pressure.
  • Go to the bathroom before the test. Having a full bladder can change your blood pressure reading.
  • Sit for 5 minutes before the test. Movement can cause short-term rises in blood pressure.

To measure your blood pressure, your doctor or nurse will use some type of a gauge, a stethoscope (or electronic sensor), and a blood pressure cuff.

Most often, you will sit or lie down with the cuff around your arm as your doctor or nurse checks your blood pressure. If he or she doesn't tell you what your blood pressure numbers are, you should ask.

Diagnosing High Blood Pressure in Children and Teens

Doctors measure blood pressure in children and teens the same way they do in adults. Your child should have routine blood pressure checks starting at 3 years of age.

Blood pressure normally rises with age and body size. Newborn babies often have very low blood pressure numbers, while older teens have numbers similar to adults.

The ranges for normal blood pressure and HBP generally are lower for youth than for adults. To find out whether a child has HBP, a doctor will compare the child's blood pressure numbers to average numbers for his or her age, gender, and height.

For more information, go to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute's "A Pocket Guide to Blood Pressure Measurement in Children."

What Does a Diagnosis of High Blood Pressure Mean?

If you're diagnosed with HBP, your doctor will prescribe treatment. Your blood pressure will be tested again to see how the treatment affects it.

Once your blood pressure is under control, you'll still need treatment. "Under control" means that your blood pressure numbers are in the normal range. Your doctor will likely recommend routine blood pressure tests. He or she can tell you how often you should be tested.

The sooner you find out about HBP and treat it, the better. Early treatment may help you avoid problems such as heart attack, stroke, and kidney failure.

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August 02, 2012 Last Updated Icon

The NHLBI updates Health Topics articles on a biennial cycle based on a thorough review of research findings and new literature. The articles also are updated as needed if important new research is published. The date on each Health Topics article reflects when the content was originally posted or last revised.