Arm-to-arm variations in blood pressure may signal cardiovascular problems, from the Harvard Heart Letter

For your next blood pressure check, you may want to roll up both sleeves, according to the May 2012 issue of the Harvard Heart Letter.

An analysis of 20 different studies found that a substantial difference between the blood pressure readings from a person's right and left arms may signal increased risk for cardiovascular problems. People with arm-to-arm pressure differences of 15 points or more were twice as likely to have peripheral artery disease (PAD) compared with those who had similar readings in both arms. Arm-to-arm pressure differences of 10 to 15 points or more also boosted the chances of having a stroke or dying from cardiovascular disease.

Having a stroke or dying from heart disease are obviously dire concerns. But don't underestimate the consequences of PAD, either. In this condition, arteries in the arms, legs, or other body parts beyond the heart and brain become clogged, usually from atherosclerosis, the buildup of fatty plaque that is also behind most heart attacks and strokes. An estimated 12 million Americans have PAD. Some of these people suffer from limited mobility and debilitating leg pain, but, says the Heart Letter, it can also lurk silently. PAD can be deadly as well, which might make differences in blood pressure from arm to arm an important early warning sign.

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