What is a Blood Pressure Cuff?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
A blood pressure cuff should be wrapped around the arm an inch above the elbow.
A blood pressure cuff should be wrapped around the arm an inch above the elbow.

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.

A blood measurement reveals how quickly a person's blood is moving through their blood vessels.
A blood measurement reveals how quickly a person's blood is moving through their blood vessels.

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.

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, affects one in four Americans.
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, affects one in four Americans.

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.

A physician may listen to a stethoscope when measuring a patient's blood pressure.
A physician may listen to a stethoscope when measuring a patient's blood pressure.

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.

An individual suffering from an eating disorder may experience low blood pressure.
An individual suffering from an eating disorder may experience low blood pressure.

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.

Mary McMahon
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.

Mary McMahon
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.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments

Lostnfound

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.

Post your comments
Login:
Forgot password?
Register:
    • A blood pressure cuff should be wrapped around the arm an inch above the elbow.
      A blood pressure cuff should be wrapped around the arm an inch above the elbow.
    • A blood measurement reveals how quickly a person's blood is moving through their blood vessels.
      A blood measurement reveals how quickly a person's blood is moving through their blood vessels.
    • High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, affects one in four Americans.
      High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, affects one in four Americans.
    • A physician may listen to a stethoscope when measuring a patient's blood pressure.
      A physician may listen to a stethoscope when measuring a patient's blood pressure.
    • An individual suffering from an eating disorder may experience low blood pressure.
      An individual suffering from an eating disorder may experience low blood pressure.
    • Individuals who are overweight have a greater risk of developing high blood pressure.
      Individuals who are overweight have a greater risk of developing high blood pressure.
    • Systolic blood pressure is the top number when reading blood pressure levels, such as 120/80.
      Systolic blood pressure is the top number when reading blood pressure levels, such as 120/80.