Why it is vital to get the blood pressure reading from BOTH of your arms
11th March 2014
blood pressureHave you had your blood pressure checked in one arm and the reading seemed ‘normal’? Typically it is checked by your GP or another healthcare professional, or you can even do it yourself with a home testing kit. A reading between 90/60 and 139/89 is judged to be normal. Not many people usually request to have their other arm checked for a blood pressure reading or check it themselves, however it might be worth doing this in the future as it could just save your life. A new American study into apparently healthy individuals discovered that in instances when there was a significant difference between the blood pressure readings in each arm, there was 38% increased risk for a heart attack, stroke or other cardiovascular problems. Researchers from Harvard Medical School in the US decided to look at the blood pressure reading of both arms from almost 3,400 men and women over the age of 40 and deemed in good health. Generally, a small difference between the two readings is considered normal and not sufficient to cause alarm. In this study, systolic pressure - the pressure of the blood when your heart pushes blood out and the higher of the two figures within a blood pressure reading – was found to vary by an average of roughly five points. For 10% of the people monitored in the study, a difference of at least ten points was found between the two arms. In the subsequent 13 years, those particular men and women were 38% at a higher risk of a potentially deadly heart attack, stroke or other cardiovascular health problems. For two readings with a large difference, it is believed that the arm showing the higher reading probably has an artery that is congested with fat. NHS guidelines advise GPs to extract the blood pressure readings of both arm. However, many are guilty of simply getting the reading from whichever arm of the patient happens to be nearest to them. Thembi Nkala, a senior cardiac nurse with the British Heart Foundation, importance of having your blood pressure checked in both arms, saying: “Even if someone has no other cardiovascular risk factors, uneven high blood pressure could be a sign of an increased future risk of cardiovascular problems. UK guidelines already call for blood pressure to be measured in both arms when diagnosing high blood pressure. If you’re worried about your blood pressure or cardiovascular risk, speak to your GP or practice nurse.” In respect to a blood pressure reading, you should not instantly panic if you have one blood pressure reading that seems high, you have not actually have high blood pressure (hypertension). Many of us are nervous or may feel stressed when visiting our GP and this can cause fluctuations in blood pressure, increasing it. In that scenario, patients can be provided with a blood pressure kit to use throughout the day to check if there is a consistent high blood pressure reading or not. Your GP could also request you to undergo blood and urine tests to see if you have conditions that increase blood pressure, such as kidney disease.