High Blood Pressure Diagnosis

Authored by Dr Colin Tidy, 21 Sep 2017

Patient is a certified member of
The Information Standard

Reviewed by:
Dr Adrian Bonsall, 21 Sep 2017

You have high blood pressure if you have several blood pressure readings that are high, taken on different occasions, and when you are relaxed.

A one-off blood pressure reading that is high does not mean that you have high blood pressure (hypertension). Your blood pressure varies throughout the day. It may be high for a short time if you are anxious, stressed, or have just been exercising.

Observation period

If one reading is found to be high, it is usual for your doctor or nurse to advise a time of observation. This means several blood pressure checks at intervals over time. The length of the observation period varies depending on the initial reading and whether you have other health risk factors.

For example, say a first reading was mildly high at 145/89 mm Hg. If you are otherwise well then a period of several weeks of observation may be advised. This may involve several blood pressure measurements over the following few weeks. You may be given a machine to monitor blood pressure while you are going about doing your everyday activities (ambulatory monitoring). You may be given (or asked to buy) a machine to measure your blood pressure at home (home monitoring). One reason this may be advised is because some people become anxious in medical clinics. This can cause the blood pressure to rise. (This is often called white coat hypertension.) Home or ambulatory monitoring of blood pressure may show that the blood pressure is normal when you are relaxed.

The observation period is also a good time to change any lifestyle factors that can reduce blood pressure. If the blood pressure readings remain high after an observation period then medication may be advised, depending on your risk factors.

However, if you have diabetes, or have recently had a heart attack or stroke, you may be advised to have blood pressure checks fairly often over the following week or so. Also, treatment with medication is usually considered at an earlier stage if the readings remain high.

If you are diagnosed as having high blood pressure (hypertension) then you are likely to be examined by your doctor and have some routine tests which include:

The purpose of the examination and tests is to:

  • Rule out (or diagnose) a secondary cause of high blood pressure, such as kidney disease.
  • Check to see if the high blood pressure has affected the heart.
  • Check for other risk factors such as a high cholesterol level or diabetes.

Further reading and references

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