If you’ve ever been to the doctor’s office, you know they usually check your blood pressure right off the bat. If you’re like me and get a little bit of white coat nervousness, they also check it at the end. By then, my nerves have settled and they can get a more accurate reading.
Or so you’d think.
New research is showing that your doctor is making a huge mistake when it comes to checking your blood pressure, if he doesn’t check blood pressure in both arms. That’s the most accurate way to determine you risk for hypertension, heart disease, stroke, and other conditions related to high blood pressure.
Doctors found a clear association between a difference in interarm systolic blood pressure and a significant increased risk for future cardiovascular disease. Therefore, if the pressure in one arm differed from the pressure found in the other, there was a greater risk for heart problems.
This is very important because blood pressure is one of the most common tests doctors perform and it looks like they’re not doing it well. There has never been a study to look at the relationship between interarm blood pressure and cardiovascular problems until now, and the results were surprising.
Systolic blood pressure is the top number in a reading, and a noticeable difference is at least 10 mm Hg or more. So for example, if one arm is reading at 125/80 and the other arm is reading 135/80, there is reason for concern.
The researchers tracked 3,390 participants all aged 40 and over who didn’t have cardiovascular disease at the beginning of the trial. They measured interarm blood pressure at the beginning, and noticed participants with higher discrepancies were at a much higher risk for future cardiovascular problems than participants with a smaller discrepancy. As noted, that magic number is a difference of 10 mm Hg.
It’s also interesting to note that discrepancies in interarm systolic blood pressure are an independent risk factor—meaning it plays a role in determining future heart health just like smoking, diet and other issues that increase risk. Now, these lifestyle choices impact blood pressure, but the results of this study indicate differences in interarm pressure play a role regardless of lifestyle.
Next time you go to the doctor, ask them to check blood pressure in both your arms. Also, have them do it at the beginning and end of your appointment for the most accurate readings. You never know, it could end up saving your life.
- Elsevier, “Blood Pressure Should Be Measured in Both Arms, Evidence Shows,” Science Daily web site, February 25, 2014; http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140225134346.htm, last accessed March 4, 2014.
Victor Marchione, MD received his Bachelor of Science Degree in 1973 and his Medical Degree from the University of Messina in 1981. He has been licensed and practicing medicine in New York and New Jersey for over 20 years. Dr. Marchione is a respected leader in the field of smoking cessation and pulmonary medicine. He has been featured on ABC News and World Report, CBS Evening News and the NBC Today Show and is the editor of the popular The Food Doctor newsletter. Dr. Marchione has also served as Principal Investigator in at least a dozen clinical research projects relating to serious ailments such as bronchitis, pneumonia, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).