Arming Yourself Against Heart Risk

Two arm blood pressure method better identifies risk of heart disease or dying

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Blood pressure checks are a common part of most doctor visits. However, if physicians are not checking blood pressure in both arms, they could fail to identify a greater risk of dying from heart disease.

A difference in blood pressure readings between a patients' right and left arms could signify an added heart risk. Though guidelines suggest that doctors take blood pressure readings in both arms, not all physicians comply.

"Get readings on both arms during self blood pressure checks."

Dr. Christopher Clark, the lead author of the study and a clinical academic fellow at the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry in England, said a strong association was found between an an increased risk of heart disease or dying when blood pressure readings vary from arm to arm.

He called for both-arm blood pressure checks to be performed on all patients.

Researchers reviewed 28 studies that focused on difference in systolic blood pressure between arms. The findings suggested that a difference of 15 mmHg or more was linked to an increased risk of peripheral vascular disease, the hardening and narrowing of arteries that supply blood to the legs and feet, and dying.

The difference in blood pressure also was linked to pre-existing cerebrovascular disease, which affects blood flow to the brain and is linked to neurological conditions such as dementia.

A difference as small as 10 mmHg between arms also raised the risk of developing peripheral vascular disease.

Dr. Clark said the findings suggest that both-arm blood pressure checks could better identify patients who may need additional assessments for heart disease. He said additional research would be needed before the findings would affect current clinical practice.

The research was funded by the Royal College of General Practitioners, the South West GP Trust and the National Institute for Health Research Peninsula Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care.

The review study was recently published in The Lancet.

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Review Date: 
February 1, 2012
Last Updated:
February 1, 2012