February 14, 2012
Most times when visiting the doctor, your blood pressure is measured in one arm. Now a new study from The Lancet highlights the importance of having your blood pressure measured in both arms during at least one visit: A large discrepancy in blood pressure readings between the left and right arms could signal a high risk of peripheral artery disease or PAD, a condition characterized by clogged arteries leading to the limbs and, by some definitions, the head or organs.
A doctor may test for PAD when the difference in systolic blood pressure between arms is 10 to 15 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) or more, suggest the researchers. Systolic blood pressure is the top number of a blood pressure reading, such as 140/90 mm Hg.
One in every 20 Americans over the age of 50 has PAD (also called peripheral vascular disease), according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Many factors besides age increase the risk of PAD, such as smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, stroke and metabolic syndrome.
Diagnosing PAD usually involves a simple, quick and painless ankle-brachial index (ABI). With timely detection and treatment of PAD, a person may enjoy better blood circulation and a higher quality of life.
The American Heart Association (AHA) already recommends measuring blood pressure in both the left and right arms at the first doctor visit (so high blood pressure isn’t overlooked). While some variation is normal, the AHA suggests that any differences above 10 mm Hg should be discussed with a doctor. If you’ve never had your blood pressure measured in both arms, talk to your health care provider.
American Heart Association. “How to Monitor and Record Your Blood Pressure.” Available at http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HighBloodPressure/SymptomsDiagnosisMonitoringofHighBloodPressure/How-to-Monitor-and-Record-Your-Blood-Pressure_UCM_303323_Article.jsp Accessed on: February 14, 2012.
Clark, et al. “Association of a difference in systolic blood pressure between arms with vascular disease and mortality: a systematic review and meta-analysis.” The Lancet, Jan 30, 2012. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(11)61710-8
McManus and Mant. "Editorial: Do differences in blood pressure between arms matter?" The Lancet, Jan 30, 2012.