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How Do I Use a Stethoscope for Blood Pressure?

A stethoscope.
A doctor checking a patient's blood pressure with a stethoscope.
A healthcare provider with a stethoscope around his neck.
A medical professional taking a person's blood pressure with a stethoscope.
Article Details
  • Written By: Cindy Quarters
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 09 April 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2014
    Conjecture Corporation
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Blood pressure is a measure of how hard the heart is working to push blood through the body. Readings are taken that indicate both a working and resting blood pressure. There are automatic blood pressure monitors available on the market, but one of the most reliable methods involves the use of a cuff and a stethoscope for blood pressure. The cuff is used to control the flow of blood, and the stethoscope is used to listen to it.

When blood pressure is taken, the results are reported as two numbers. To determine this reading, you must first inflate the cuff on the patient’s upper arm until the flow of blood to the lower arm is cut off. The stethoscope is then placed over the artery in the crook of the arm. Slowly deflate the cuff until the you can hear the sound of the blood moving again. Make a note of the reading on the pressure indicator, either a dial or a column of mercury, at this time.

Release the pressure in the cuff slowly until no sounds are heard in the artery. Make a note of this number as well. Combining the two numbers together indicates the patient’s complete blood pressure reading. When using the stethoscope for blood pressure, it is best if the patient sits with the arm placed comfortably in front so that it is resting on a table or other surface.

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The first number indicates the pressure of the blood as it is being forced through the arteries. When using the stethoscope for blood pressure, this is the point at which the first sounds of blood moving through the artery in the arm can be heard. This number is called the systolic pressure, and it is normally higher than the second reading.

The second number, recorded when the person using the stethoscope for blood pressure can no longer hear the blood rushing through the artery, indicates the body’s blood pressure when the heart is resting. This number is the diastolic reading, and reflects the blood pressure when the heart is at rest. During this phase the heart is not pushing blood through the arteries, but is filling up with blood in preparation for the next push. Some consider this number more significant than the systolic reading, as a high diastolic number indicates that there is more pressure on the arteries even when the heart is at rest.

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