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Taking Blood Pressure in Both Arms

By By Jennifer Mitchell, Contributing Writer, myOptumHealth
May 26, 2012, 3:14:25 AM EDT

Every time you step foot in the doctor's office the nurse wraps a trusty cuff around your arm to take your blood pressure, but how often does a health professional take it on both arms? A recent study suggests that a difference in blood pressure readings between the right and left arms may signal peripheral vascular disease (PVD) and a greater risk of heart disease leading to death. Having both arms checked may help catch a big problem.

The study, which appeared in The Lancet, a U.K. medical journal, examined a collection of previously published studies that looked at patients who had a difference in their systolic blood pressure (SBP) between their right and left arms. The systolic blood pressure (SBP) is the amount of pressure that blood exerts on vessels while the heart is contracting. The study outlined in The Lancet focused on differences of 10 millimeters mercury or more and 15 millimeters mercury or more between arms and also examined the outcomes of the variation.


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One outcome scientists focused on was PVD, which is a buildup of plaque in the arteries that carry blood to the head, organs, and limbs. This disease results in limited amounts of oxygen-rich blood reaching these body parts, causing a higher risk of heart attack and stroke, among other complications. The study showed that a difference of 10 millimeters had an increased risk of PVD and that a 15-millimeter variation had an even greater risk and was also associated with increased chance of death from a cardiovascular event.

The investigation concluded that a difference in SBP of 10 millimeters mercury or more between arms might help identify patients who need further vascular assessment.

Related:
How to Lower Your Blood Pressure
Blood Pressure Monitoring

The American Heart Association recommends measuring blood pressure in both arms at the first visit to the doctor's office. While further research is still needed to determine how great the difference between arms can be and still be normal, you may want to ask your doctor if having your blood pressure checked in both arms is right for you. It may help your doctor spot a problem more readily.

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