How to Determine the Correct Blood Pressure Cuff Size

A senior woman has her blood pressure checked by a nurse in a doctor's office.
Image Credit: Catherine Yeulet/iStock/Getty Images

Blood pressure testing is routinely performed at doctor appointments to monitor the health of your heart and entire cardiovascular system. While good technique is necessary when taking a blood pressure, having the proper equipment is equally important. Blood pressure cuffs must be the correct size for the patient’s arm to ensure the reading is accurate. LifeLong Health explains that a cuff that is too small will give a falsely high reading; whereas a cuff that is too large will give a falsely low reading.


Step 1

Measure your upper arm using a cloth tape measure. For accurate measurement, it may be necessary to enlist someone else to help with placement of the tape measure. Measure halfway between the elbow and shoulder, making sure the tape measure is level all the way around. It should be snug, not tight.

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Step 2

Read the measurement on the tape measure in inches. A circumference of 7 to 9 inches requires a small adult sized cuff. A regular, or standard sized cuff, is needed if the arm circumference measures 9 to 13 inches. A large adult cuff should be used if the measurement is 13 to 17 inches.

Step 3

Take your blood pressure using only the appropriate size cuff. Dr. Vincent R. Moloney MD of Temple University School of Medicine explains that using an incorrectly sized cuff can cause a blood pressure reading to be as much as 50 points higher, and unfortunately this is a common mistake made by many clinics and health professionals. Using the right size cuff will eliminate false readings which could lead to unnecessary worry and treatment.

Step 4

Request that an appropriate size cuff be used whenever your blood pressure is taken at a doctor’s office. The arm circumference should be printed on the inside of each cuff to eliminate confusion created by size variance among manufacturers. Make a note to always verify the appropriate size cuff is being used on your arm.

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Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.

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