What is a sphygmomanometer and how does it work?

close up of sphygmomanometer

A sphygmomanometer is one of the more unspellable tools in the Autonomous Medicine arsenal.

It’s known as many things:

  • Blood Pressure Meter
  • Blood Pressure Machine
  • Hypertension Cuff
  • Blood Pressure Monitor
  • Oscillatory Blood Pressure Monitoring Device
  • Blood Pressure Gauge
  • Blood Pressure Checker

So what is a sphygmomanometer and what does it do?

Basically a blood pressure monitor is  a device that is specifically designed to measure arterial blood pressure. It has an inflatable cuff that goes around the upper arm and when inflated, prevents blood flow. As pressure is released and blood starts to flow, systolic pressure can be measured as that’s the pressure when the heart is pushing. Pressure is then released more until blood is flowing uninhibited and another reading is taken to measure diastolic (heart at rest) pressure.
It’s a rather simple, effective and has been around for ages. The gold standard for measuring blood pressure for over 100 years.

There are essentially two different types of Sphygmomanometers:

Manual Type (Stethoscope is required)

This is one that you’re probably accustomed to seeing a doctor use when you visit your general practitioner. They require special training and a stethoscope to get an accurate systolic pressure reading. There are two types of manual meters as well

  1. Mercury-Based
    If you’re a bit older, you’re probably familiar with these. They use mercury as the medium to mark the measurement. This is considered the gold standard of accurate sphygmomanometers. However, as we learned more about the hazards of mercury, environmental groups and others have protested their use and now they are no longer as common as before.
  2. Aneroid-Based
    These are what you’ll see in most medical practices these days. They require calibration (unlike mercury-based ones) but are generally considered safer due to the lack of hazardous metals. They can be self-applied and usually also auto inflate/deflate.

Digital type

Most battery-operated sphygmomanometers are digital.  They’re typically free of hazardous metals, intuitive, and great in noisy environments. They consist of an inflatable cuff that can be applied easily for self-testing and an automatically inflating and deflating valve. These also have a digital monitor to display the readings, leaving nothing to interpretation.

Have you been diagnosed with hypertension (high blood pressure)?

The most important tool in the Autonomous Medicine arsenal for fighting hypertension is the sphygmomanometer. Blood pressure fluctuates throughout the day and also depends on a variety of factors, such as stress, medicine and diet.  Getting tested semi-annually at the doctors office, just isn’t sufficient, nor very accurate.  So anyone at risk of hypertension should get an at home blood pressure cuff, so they can measure their progress in their battle against high blood pressure.

Lifestyle Changes to Lower Blood Pressure

Just starting your fight against rising hypertension? You’ll surely get a lecture from your doctor about making some lifestyle changes, and it’s typically, more exercise, less salt kind of advice.  Though in keeping with the Pareto Principle (80/20 rule), we have compiled a list of high efficiency lifestyle changes to help you lower your blood pressure with minimal effort.  If you’re looking strictly for diet advice, you have a few options.

  1. A list of Ketogenic blood pressure fighting foods
  2. A diet regimen called Judicious Consumption, aimed at losing weight, lowering blood pressure and restoring pancreas functionality.


Comments 2

  1. I have been looking to buy a blood pressure cuff because I’m concerned about my blood pressure. Every time I check my numbers their inconsistent, sometimes high and sometimes not.
    Can you recommend a good blood pressure monitor?

    1. Hey Barry, sounds like you’d be a good candidate for having an at home monitor. Typically the upper arm cuffs are the most accurate. Checkout Our blood pressure buying guide for more information. Though to save you a click, the Omron 10 is probably the best on the market currently.

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