During a consultation, doctors generally measures blood pressure by taking measurements from only one arm

New research suggests however that we could be missing out on vital information in the fight against heart disease by not taking readings from both arms. Taking inter-arm measurements can give big clues as to who is at higher future risk of cardiovascular problems. This is why leading researchers are recommending that clinicians adopt greater use of inter-arm systolic blood pressure readings.

Disparity in Inter-arm readings could signal trouble

The American Journal of Medicine recently published a study carried out by the Institute of Heart Vascular Care, Massachusetts, which involved 3390 participants aged 40 years and over. The subjects, all part of the Framingham Heart Study, did not suffer from cardiovascular disease. Researchers found that those with blood pressure differences between the arms of over 10mm Hg were more likely to suffer cardiovascular events than those with less than a 10mm Hg difference between their arms.
Nearly 10% of individuals showed a systolic blood pressure difference in their arms, and this was “associated with increased levels of traditional cardiovascular risk factors” according to study leader Ido Weinberg, MD of the Institute for Heart Vascular Care, General Hospital, Massachusetts, Boston. Incidentally participants with elevated blood pressure differences between the arms also had a greater likelihood of developing diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol.

Recent research confirms earlier findings

These findings follow on from earlier research carried out in 2012, where a team from the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry reported the first systematic review of findings related to a difference in blood pressure in arms. This study, published in the Lancet, also suggested that a difference of greater than 10 mm HG in systolic blood pressure (the top reading) indicated an increased risk of vascular disease and premature death.
The BMJ (British Medical Journal) reviewed another study which followed patients over a 10 year period. This research also showed a link between differences in blood pressure between the arms and vascular disease, and mortality. In this study 230 patients who were receiving treatment for high blood pressure had two arm blood pressure readings taken at the start of the study. They were then followed for 10 years. Of the 230 patients, 24% had differences in blood pressure between the arms of more than 10mm Hg, with 9% having a difference of more than 15mm Hg.
Over the 10 year period, the incidence of a first vascular event in patients with an inter-arm difference was found to be as great as that in patients who already had cardiovascular disease.
This research suggests that practitioners should include readings from both arms in order to get an accurate picture and detect differences between the inter-arm readings. Even a small difference between readings could indicate a greater risk of developing heart problems.

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