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What is a Blood Pressure Cuff?

Mary McMahon
Updated Jan 26, 2024
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A blood pressure cuff is a medical device which is used to apply pressure to the arteries in the arm for the purpose of measuring blood pressure. Blood pressure is a valuable indicator of cardiovascular health, and it is one of the key vital signs which is regularly tested by nurses and other medical staff. There are a couple of different styles of blood pressure cuffs which can be used to monitor blood pressure. Medical supply companies typically stock several models, and they can also be supplied by medical offices for patients who wish to monitor their blood pressure at home.

The design of a blood pressure cuff allows the user to wrap it around the arm, just above the elbow at the level of the heart. The cuff is then inflated, putting pressure on the vessels and arteries. Once the cuff is fully inflated, it starts to deflate, and the return of bloodflow to the area is measured with a device which can measure the pressure of the returning blood against the walls of the artery. Some cuffs require the user to listen with a stethoscope for the distinctive sound of returning blood, while others take a reading automatically using internal sensors.

When a patient's blood pressure is taken, two numbers are recorded. The first is systolic blood pressure, and the second is diastolic blood pressure. These two numbers reflect the high and low points of the circulatory cycle, and they are written like this: 120/80. 120/80, incidentally, is a normal blood pressure reading. Some flexibility is available in this range, with people like children and athletes tending to have low blood pressure when compared to the norm. High blood pressure is a cause for concern, because it can develop into a medical problem.

Most blood pressure cuffs are manually inflated and deflated with the assistance of a bulb which is squeezed by the user. It is also possible to find a mechanized blood pressure cuff which inflates itself, like the blood pressure checker stations in some pharmacies. The pressure is measured with a device known as a sphygmomanometer, which can have a dial output or a digital output. Dials tend to be more accurate and reliable, but they are also easy to damage, and many medical offices use digital outputs for reliability.

When using a blood pressure cuff, it is important to be aware that the size of the cuff is very important. Cuffs which are improperly fitted will give out an inaccurate reading. Larger adults especially tend to receive inaccurate blood pressure readings as the result of a cuff which is too small. Asking for a larger blood pressure cuff is highly recommended, to ensure that the reading is correct.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By Lostnfound — On Jan 23, 2014

I'm very glad the article mentions making sure the nurse doesn't take one's blood pressure with a cuff that is too small. The readings will not be accurate.

I'm one of those people who doesn't really do well with the electronic cuffs. They'll inflate, but apparently, have a hard time getting a reading. The nurse almost always has to take my BP manually, anyway.

My nurse practitioner says she would rather take a BP manually because she says, "I believe what I can hear."

Make sure you always ask for the large cuff if you know you have larger arms.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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