Taking manual blood pressure

This article focuses on non-invasive blood pressure measurement, using the manual technique. This vital observation is practised by all nursing fields in primary and secondary healthcare environments.

Article by Laura J Park, Claire Ford and Jaden Allan

First published: Last updated:
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Key Points
  • Understand the reasons for taking blood pressure (BP) and the equipment required
  • Understand the various techniques for taking BP measurements
  • Recognise the procedural steps for taking a manual BP
  • Be aware of common causes of errors when taking a manual BP

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What is blood pressure?

A BP measurement in its simplest form is a determinant of individual cardiac output (the volume of blood pumped out of the heart and into the aorta per minute) and the systematic vascular resistance (the diameter of the arterial blood vessels) (Foley, 2015).

BP measurement is widely recognised as being a routine observation that can be used as a way to assess cardiac output and its effectiveness for adequate tissue perfusion (Odell, 2013). Thus, the presence of a BP is a requirement for human existence and BP measurement, which includes interpreting results and taking appropriate action, is considered a key clinical skill to acquire and maintain as results can determine patient care (Doughty and Lister, 2015).

Many factors can influence a BP reading, for example, age, sleep, emotions and activity. Consequently, evidence in the literature varies as to what constitutes a normal reading, and optimal parameters

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Allan J, Sheppard, K. Monitoring a pulse in adults. Br J Nurs. 2018; 27(21): 1237-1239. https://doi.org/10.12968/bjon.2018.27.21.1237 

British and Irish Hypertension Society. Blood pressure measurement. Using manual blood pressure monitors. 2017. https://bihsoc.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/BP-Measurement-Poster-Manual-2017.pdf (accessed 10 January 2023) 

Dougherty L, Lister S. The Royal Marsden manual of clinical nursing procedures (9th edn). Chichester: Wiley Blackwell; 2015 

Fetzer SJ. Vital signs and physical assessment. In: Perry AG, Potter PA, Ostendorf WR (eds.). Clinical nursing skills and techniques (8th edn). St Louis. MO: Mosby; 2014 65–103 

Foley V. Clinical measurement. In: Delves-Yates C (ed). Essentials of nursing practice. London: SAGE Publications; 2015 

Ford C, Park LJ. Hand hygiene and handwashing: key to preventing the transfer of pathogens. Br J Nurs. 2018; 27(20), 1164-1166. https://doi.org/10.12968/bjon.2018.27.20.1164 

Ford C, Park LJ. How to apply and remove medical gloves. Br J Nurs. 2019; 28(1): 26-28. https://doi.org/10.12968/bjon.2019.28.1.26 

James GD, Gerber LM. Measuring arterial blood pressure in humans: auscultatory and automatic measurement techniques for human biological field studies. Am J Hum Biol. 2018; 30(1):e23063. 

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