A new British study reports that even small differences in blood pressure between the arms are associated with increased heart-related and all-cause death, in healthy individuals without heart disease


The increasingly uncomfortable feeling you experience as a doctor inflates the blood pressure cuff on your arm may need to be experienced more than once. A recent British study published in the British Journal of General Practice may call the need for blood pressure measures twice – once in each arm. The researchers found that even a difference as low as 5 points in blood pressure between the arms can signal double the risk of increased heart-related and all-cause death.

To determine your risk factor for heart disease and early death, blood pressure tests are routinely conducted on one arm. Blood pressure tests rarely ever involve taking measurements in both arms and noting any differences. However, small differences in blood pressure readings between the right and left arms are usually considered normal by most primary care physicians.A recent British study suggests that even these small differences may have huge health implications.

Researchers at the University of Exeter measured blood pressure in both arms – in 3350 males and females aged 50-75 years with no medical history of heart disease, but moderately elevated cardiovascular risk. The average arm-to-arm difference in 60% of participants was found to be 5 points in systolic blood pressure, where systolic refers to the amount of pressure in your arteries when your heart contracts. Researchers found that this 5-point difference in blood pressure between the arms was associated with nearly double the risk of heart-related and all-cause death, over an 8-year period. The findings, which appear in the April 2016 edition of the British Journal of General Practice, uphold earlier work on differences in blood pressure between the arms.

Currently, an arm-to-arm difference in systolic blood pressure up to about 10 points is considered normal. However, differences of about 20 points usually result in an immediate referral to a cardiologist. The current study suggests that a difference as low as 5 points in systolic blood pressure between the arms may call for medical attention. Researchers hope that the study encourages primary care physicians and medical professionals to check blood pressure in both arms and make note of differences even as small as 5 points.

Next time you go in for your routine medical check-up, probe your doctor to take two blood pressure measurements – despite the additional discomfort you may experience.




Written By: Suganya Gnanakumaran, BSc

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