Blood pressure

Why does the patient’s/client’s blood pressure need to be checked?

Blood pressure is the force the blood exerts on the walls of the blood vessels as it’s pushed through the body by the heart. Its importance to health is now well-recognised, in that high blood pressure can lead to serious illnesses like strokes, heart disease and kidney disease. There is also an extreme form of high blood pressure that can happen to pregnant women and which can be fatal for woman and baby. So the best way we can detect high blood pressure early is to check the patients/clients in our care.

When should I check it?

The blood pressure should be checked as part of routine initial checks of temperature, pulse and respirations. This sets a baseline against which we can compare changes. We should be mindful, though, that people accessing a health service for the first time can feel quite stressed, and stress causes a rise in blood pressure, so our first reading might be misleadingly high. You should always check a high first reading sometime later, after the person has relaxed a bit. Note also that other factors, such as recently smoking a cigarette or taking a high quantity of alcohol, can also raise the blood pressure temporarily.

The frequency of checking will vary according to the person’s general health state. People who are obese (a cause of high blood pressure) or who have a history of high blood pressure should be checked frequently. Some people who are undergoing investigations for high blood pressure might be attached to a machine that measures the pressure continuously over a 24-hour period. The times to check the blood pressure will be set out in the patient’s/client’s care plan.

How do I check it?

Have a look at our slide show on how to take a blood pressure reading.

What do my findings mean?

‘Normal’ blood pressures vary widely, but generally a blood pressure that is persistently raised above 140/90 is considered high blood pressure.

The problem is that high blood pressure – called hypertension – isn’t easily recognised by physical means. There is no rash or swelling, and the person doesn’t complain of pain or discomfort; in fact many people just go about their daily business unaware that they have hypertension. For that reason, it has sometimes been called ‘the silent killer’.

The opposite of hypertension is low blood pressure, or hypotension. This generally isn’t a problem if it is the person’s natural state, but a sudden and unexplained hypotension could be very serious and must be reported immediately. Also, some people with hypotension feel dizzy or may even faint if they get to their feet too quickly, so must be taught to do so gradually.

Where should I record and report my findings?

As you’ll have seen from our slideshow on how to take a blood pressure reading, the blood pressure consists of two separate sounds, and these must both be recorded.

Some people with hypertension will monitor their own blood pressure and may have a recording book. You should make sure the readings are recorded in their book as well as your organisation’s own observation chart. You should make sure you record your findings clearly and accurately so that they can be readily seen and understood. Always follow your organisation’s policies and procedures on recording and reporting.

You can find more information on the British Hypertension Society website.

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