A new analysis suggests that a difference in blood pressure between the left and right arms may signal an increased risk for serious heart problems. According to a recent survey, doctors should routinely compare blood pressure readings from both arms to prevent unnecessary deaths.
Doctors usually take a blood pressure reading in only one arm, but a new study in Hypertension suggests they should be checking both. The difference between the two readings may be a marker of increased risk for cardiovascular disease — and death. In fact, blood pressure could be higher in one arm.
Researchers combined data in 24 previous studies that measured bilateral blood pressure in 53,827 men and women over 18. The studies included only people examined in general health clinics, eliminating any who were seen in specialty heart settings.
In total, there were 4,939 deaths from any cause, including 1,435 deaths related to cardiovascular disease, and 5,800 fatal and nonfatal cardiovascular events, including heart attacks, episodes of angina, or strokes. After adjusting for age, sex, smoking, and diagnoses of diabetes and hypertension, they found that for each 5-millimeter increase in the difference between left and right arm systolic readings (the top number), there was a 5 percent increase in the risk for death from any cause, a 6 percent increase in cardiovascular death and a 9 percent increase in the risk for a first cardiovascular event.
“This large study gives some precision to the numbers,” said the lead author, Christopher E. Clark, a senior clinical lecturer at the University of Exeter Medical School in England. “A 10-millimeter difference between arms means a 10 percent increase in risk, and that’s substantial enough to reclassify people into groups to be treated more aggressively.”
Should your blood pressure be the same in both arms?
Generally, a small difference in blood pressure readings between arms isn’t a health concern. However, a difference of more than 10 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) for either your top number (systolic pressure) or the bottom number (diastolic) may be a sign of blocked arteries in the arms, diabetes, or other health problem.
Which arm to measure blood pressure right or left?
(It’s best to take your blood pressure from your left arm if you are right-handed. However, you can use the other arm if you have been told to do so by your healthcare provider.) Rest in a chair next to a table for 5 to 10 minutes. (Your left arm should rest comfortably at heart level.)
Is it bad to take multiple blood pressure readings?
It’s ideal to measure your blood pressure twice a day for two weeks leading up to a doctor’s appointment, or following a change in medication. At each sitting, measure your blood pressure three times, but discard the first reading as it tends to be inaccurate. Write down the average of the second and third reading.
Why is blood pressure higher in the left arm than the right arm?
Small differences in blood pressure readings between the right and left arm are normal. But large ones suggest the presence of artery-clogging plaque in the vessel that supplies blood to the arm with higher blood pressure.