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Measurement of blood pressure

Blood pressure is one of the critical parameters measured on virtually every patient in every healthcare setting. The technique used today was developed more than 100 years ago by a pioneering Russian physician, Dr. Nikolai Korotkoff. Turbulent blood flow through the vessels can be heard as a soft ticking while measuring blood pressure; these sounds are known as Korotkoff sounds    . The technique of measuring blood pressure requires the use of a sphygmomanometer    (a blood pressure cuff attached to a measuring device) and a stethoscope. The technique is as follows:

  • The clinician wraps an inflatable cuff tightly around the patient’s arm at about the level of the heart.
  • The clinician squeezes a rubber pump to inject air into the cuff, raising pressure around the artery and temporarily cutting off blood flow into the patient’s arm.
  • The clinician places the stethoscope on the patient’s antecubital region and, while gradually allowing air within the cuff to escape, listens for the Korotkoff sounds.

Although there are five recognized Korotkoff sounds, only two are normally recorded. Initially, no sounds are heard since there is no blood flow through the vessels, but as air pressure drops, the cuff relaxes, and blood flow returns to the arm. As shown in [link] , the first sound heard through the stethoscope—the first Korotkoff sound—indicates systolic pressure. As more air is released from the cuff, blood is able to flow freely through the brachial artery and all sounds disappear. The point at which the last sound is heard is recorded as the patient’s diastolic pressure.

Blood pressure measurement

This image shows blood pressure as a function of time.
When pressure in a sphygmomanometer cuff is released, a clinician can hear the Korotkoff sounds. In this graph, a blood pressure tracing is aligned to a measurement of systolic and diastolic pressures.

The majority of hospitals and clinics have automated equipment for measuring blood pressure that work on the same principles. An even more recent innovation is a small instrument that wraps around a patient’s wrist. The patient then holds the wrist over the heart while the device measures blood flow and records pressure.

Variables affecting blood flow and blood pressure

Five variables influence blood flow and blood pressure:

  • Cardiac output
  • Compliance
  • Volume of the blood
  • Viscosity of the blood
  • Blood vessel length and diameter

Recall that blood moves from higher pressure to lower pressure. It is pumped from the heart into the arteries at high pressure. If you increase pressure in the arteries (afterload), and cardiac function does not compensate, blood flow will actually decrease. In the venous system, the opposite relationship is true. Increased pressure in the veins does not decrease flow as it does in arteries, but actually increases flow. Since pressure in the veins is normally relatively low, for blood to flow back into the heart, the pressure in the atria during atrial diastole must be even lower. It normally approaches zero, except when the atria contract (see [link] ).

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Source:  OpenStax, Anatomy & Physiology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 04, 2016 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11496/1.8
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