Blood Pressure Often Differs Widely Between Arms
The results, published online December 21 in the journal Hypertension, are based on 24 studies conducted around the world, involving nearly 54,000 adults in total. Over 10 years, 11% have had a fatal or non-fatal heart attack or stroke.
It’s normal, Clark said, to have a few points of variation in blood pressure between the two arms – due to the anatomy and the fact that one hand is usually dominant.
“Our interest was to identify when this difference is large enough to be considered to mean more than that,” Clark said. “When is the difference large enough to suggest a change in the arteries that could mean an additional risk of stroke or heart attack?”
Overall, his team found that the risks to people began to increase when both arms showed a difference of at least 5 points in systolic blood pressure (the “top” number of a blood pressure reading. arterial pressure).
For every 1 point increase, the risk of dying from heart disease over the next 10 years increased from 1% to 2%. During this time, the chances of suffering from a heart problem or stroke for the first time have also increased.
These increases were small, but the researchers said that a 10 point difference in systolic pressure between the arms should be considered the “upper limit of normal.”
Differences between the arms are more common in people with high blood pressure, Clark said, but people with normal readings can also have them.
The phenomenon is more important for a person with high blood pressure or other risk factors, such as diabetes and high cholesterol, he added.
Berger said it was not clear why so few healthcare providers measured blood pressure in both arms.
“This is not a new discovery,” he said of the ongoing study. “It has been shown many times.”
For now, Berger has suggested patients ask questions the next time they have their blood pressure checked: if it’s not done in both arms, why not?
Regarding home blood pressure monitoring, he said, if people repeatedly detect a significant difference between the arms, they should let their doctor know.
Clark was also in favor of doctors checking both arms, at least once – in part to get a more accurate gauge of patients’ blood pressure. If an arm has a higher reading, he said, future measurements should be taken on that arm.
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