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Hill and Barnard sphygmomanometer, London, England, 1886-1896

The original sphygmomanometer was devised by Samuel Von Basch (1837-1905) in 1881. It measured blood pressure by slowly applying a measured force to the skin over an artery until the pulse disappeared. This example is a variation known as a Hill and Barnard sphygmomanometer. It is named after its designers Dr Leonard Hill (1866-1952), a British physiologist, and Harold Barnard (1868-1908), a British surgeon. Measuring blood pressure as a health check only became common practice from the 1920s.

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Glossary: pulse

The throbbing of the arteries as blood flows through them. The pulse matches the rate at which the heart is beating.

Glossary: sphygmomanometer

An instrument used by medical staff to measure blood pressure. Usually made up of a cuff which is placed around the arm of a patient, and a measuring unit that shows the patient's blood pressure.

Glossary: blood pressure

The pressure at which blood is pumped around the body, closely related to the heart rate.