Skip Navigation
request an appointment my chart notification lp musc-logo-white-01 facebook twitter youtube blog find a provider circle arrow
MUSC mobile menu
preventive health services

Blood Pressue Health Screenings

Why is this important?

About one of three U.S. adults — or about 70 million people — have high blood pressure. Only about half (52%) of these people have their high blood pressure under control. This common condition increases the risk for heart disease and stroke, two of the leading causes of death for Americans. That is why high blood pressure is called the “silent killer” because it often has no warning signs or symptoms, and many people do not know they have it.

Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries, which carry blood from your heart to other parts of your body. Blood pressure normally rises and falls throughout the day. But if it stays high for a long time, it can damage your heart and lead to health problems. The only way to know if you have it is to measure your blood pressure. Then you can take steps to control it if it is too high.

Measure your blood pressure regularly. It is quick and painless, and it is the only way to know whether your pressure is high. You can check your blood pressure at a doctor’s office, at a pharmacy, or at home. The good news is that you can take steps to prevent high blood pressure or to control it if your blood pressure is already high.

What are the risks?

There are very few risks or harms when you get your blood pressure screened. The pressure of the cuff may squeeze your biceps and make you feel uncomfortable. If the first readings of your blood pressure are high, you may be asked to stay in your chair for five or more minutes before another set of readings is taken.

If you are found to have higher than normal blood pressure readings you may be asked to make lifestyle changes in your daily habits. You can make changes to your lifestyle that will help you control your blood pressure. Your doctor might prescribe medications that can help you. By controlling your blood pressure, you will lower your risk for the harmful effects of high blood pressure.

You may also be prescribed medications that will help lower your blood pressure readings. There are potential side effects of many medications. If you are diagnosed with high blood pressure, discuss with your doctor all the ways you can help lower your high blood pressure.

How does blood pressure screening work?

First, a doctor or other health professional wraps a special cuff around your arm. The cuff has a gauge on it that will read your blood pressure. The doctor then inflates the cuff to squeeze your arm.

After the cuff is inflated, the doctor will slowly let air out. While doing this, he or she will listen to your pulse with a stethoscope and watch the gauge. The gauge uses a scale called “millimeters of mercury” (mmHg) to measure the pressure in your blood vessels. Another option is to get a blood pressure measurement from the machines available at many pharmacies. There are also home monitoring devices for blood pressure that you can use yourself.

What blood pressure numbers mean?

Blood pressure is measured using two numbers. The first number, called systolic blood pressure, measures the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart beats. The second number, called diastolic blood pressure, measures the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart rests between beats.

Blood Pressure Levels

Systolic: Less than 120 mmHg | Diastolic: Less than 80 mmHg

At Risk
Systolic: 120 to 139 mmHg | Diastolic: 80 to 89 mmHg

Systolic: 140 mmHg or higher | Diastolic: 90 mmHg or highe

A blood pressure less than 120/80 mmHg is normal. A blood pressure of 140/90 mmHg or more is too high. People with levels in between 120/80 and 140/90 have a condition called prehypertension, which means they are at high risk for high blood pressure.

Frequently asked questions about blood pressure screening

Why is high blood pressure bad?
High blood pressure can damage your health in many ways. It can seriously hurt important organs like your heart and brain.

  • Heart Damage
    High blood pressure can harden your arteries, which decreases the flow of blood and oxygen to your heart and lead to heart disease. In addition, decreased blood flow to the heart can cause:
    • Chest pain, also called angina
    • Heart failure, a condition when your heart can’t pump enough blood and oxygen to your other organs
    • Heart attack, which occurs when the blood supply to your heart is blocked and heart muscle begins to die without enough oxygen. The longer the blood flow is blocked, the greater the damage to the heart.
  • Brain Damage
    High blood pressure can burst or block arteries that supply blood and oxygen to the brain, causing a stroke. Brain cells die during a stroke because they do not get enough oxygen. Stroke can cause serious disabilities in speech, movement, and other basic activities, and a stroke can kill you.
  • Kidney Damage
    Adults with diabetes, high blood pressure, or both have a higher risk of developing chronic kidney disease than those without these diseases. Approximately one of three adults with diabetes and one of five adults with high blood pressure have chronic kidney disease.

What causes high blood pressure?
Risk factors include health conditions, your lifestyle, and your family history that can increase your risk for high blood pressure. Some of the risk factors for high blood pressure cannot be controlled, such as your age or family history. But you can take steps to lower your risk by changing the factors you can control.
Some medical conditions can raise your risk for high blood pressure. If you have one of these conditions, you can take steps to control it and lower your risk.

What is At-Risk or Prehypertension?
Prehypertension is blood pressure that is slightly higher than normal. Prehy- pertension increases the risk that you will develop chronic, or long-lasting, high blood pressure in the future. If your blood pressure is between 120/80 mmHg and 139/89 mmHg, you have prehypertension.

Is there an alternative to taking blood pressure medications?
Your lifestyle choices can increase your risk for high blood pressure. To reduce your risk, your doctor may recommend changes to your lifestyle.

What are Contributing factors to High Blood Pressure?

  • Unhealthy Diet
    A diet that is too high in sodium and too low in potassium puts you at risk for high blood pressure. Eating too much sodium—an element in table salt—increases blood pressure.
  • Physical  Inactivity
    Not getting enough physical activity can make you gain weight, which can lead to high blood pressure.
  • Obesity
    Obesity is excess body fat. Obesity is linked to higher “bad” cholesterol and triglyceride levels and to lower “good” cholesterol levels.
  • Too Much Alcohol
    Drinking too much alcohol can raise your blood pressure. Women should have no more than one drink a day and men should have no more than two drinks a day.
  • Tobacco Use 
    Tobacco use increases your risk for high blood pressure. Cigarette smoking can damage the heart and blood vessels. Also, nicotine raises blood pressure, and carbon monoxide reduces the amount of oxygen that your blood can carry.
  • Genetics and Family History 
    Genetic factors likely play some role in high blood pressure, heart disease, and other related conditions. However, family members share genes, behaviors, lifestyles, and environments that can influence their health and their risk for disease. The risk for high blood pressure can increase even more when heredity combines with unhealthy lifestyle choices, such as smoking cigarettes and eating an unhealthy diet.

Things you cannot control can affect your risk for high blood pressure

  • Age
    Because your blood pressure tends to rise as you get older, your risk for high blood pressure increases with age.
  • Sex
    Women are about as likely as men to develop high blood pressure at some point during their lives.
  • Race or ethnicity.
    Blacks develop high blood pressure more often than whites, Hispanics, Asians, Pacific Islanders, American Indians, or Alaska Na- tives. Compared to whites, blacks also develop high blood pressure earlier in life.

What can I do to prevent high blood pressure?
By living a healthier lifestyle, you can help keep your blood pressure in a “nor- mal range” and lower your risk for heart disease and stroke. A healthy lifestyle includes:

  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Getting enough physical activity
  • Not smoking
  • Limiting alcohol use