Getting a blood pressure test 

High blood pressure (hypertension) often doesn't have any symptoms, so the only way to find out if you have it is to get your blood pressure checked.

Having this done is easy and could save your life.

Blood pressure testing is available:

  • at your GP surgery by a GP, practice nurse, healthcare assistant or self-service machine
  • at a pharmacy
  • as part of your NHS Health Check
  • in some workplaces
  • at a health event
  • at home – you can check blood pressure yourself with a home testing kit

Healthy adults aged over 40 should have their blood pressure checked at least once every five years.

If you are at an increased risk of high blood pressure, you should have your blood pressure checked more often, ideally once a year.

You can ask for a blood pressure check – you don't have to wait to be offered one.

Blood pressure testing is also part of the NHS Health Check for adults aged 40-74.


The test

Blood pressure can be measured using a manual or automatic device.

A cuff is placed around your arm and pumped up to restrict the blood flow. The pressure is then slowly released as your pulse is checked.

Hearing how your pulse beats after the cuff is released allows a measurement to be taken, giving a blood pressure reading.

Before having your blood pressure taken, you should rest for at least five minutes and empty your bladder.

To get an accurate blood pressure reading you should be sitting down with your back supported and legs uncrossed, and not talking when the reading is taken.

Confirming if you have high blood pressure

Having a raised blood pressure reading in one test does not necessarily mean you have high blood pressure. Blood pressure can fluctuate throughout the day. Feeling anxious or stressed when you visit your GP can also raise your blood pressure.

If you have a high reading, you will probably be given a blood pressure kit to take home, or be asked to wear a 24-hour monitor so you can monitor your blood pressure level throughout the day. This will confirm whether you have consistently high blood pressure.

You may also have blood and urine tests to check for conditions that are known to cause an increase in blood pressure, such as kidney disease.

Home testing

Portable machines that measure your blood pressure at home or on the move can be a useful way of getting a more convenient and accurate reading.

This is because some people become anxious in medical clinics, which can cause the blood pressure to rise. This is a condition called "white coat hypertension".

Home or portable blood pressure monitors may show that your blood pressure is in fact normal when you are relaxed.

You can buy a variety of low cost monitors so you can test your blood pressure at home or while you're out and about.

The British Hypertension Society (BHS) website has detailed information about clinically approved blood pressure monitors that are available to buy.

Understanding your blood pressure reading

Blood pressure is measured in millimetres of mercury (mmHg) and it is recorded as two figures:

  • systolic pressure (the top number) – the pressure of the blood when your heart pushes blood out
  • diastolic pressure (the bottom number) – the pressure of the blood when your heart rests in between beats, which reflects how strongly your arteries are resisting blood flow

If your GP says your blood pressure is "140 over 90" or 140/90mmHg, it means you have a systolic pressure of 140mmHg and a diastolic pressure of 90mmHg.

Ideally, your blood pressure reading should be below 120/80mmHg (for the lowest possible risk of disease). However, anything under 130/80mmHg is generally considered normal.

You are said to have high blood pressure if readings on separate occasions consistently show your blood pressure to be 140/90mmHg or higher.

If you have kidney disease, diabetes or a condition that affects your heart and circulation, your target blood pressure should be below 130/80mmHg.

Find out how to treat high blood pressure.

Page last reviewed: 04/07/2014

Next review due: 04/07/2016