Blood pressure checks: Both sides now?

Research we're watching

Published: April, 2021

A difference in the blood pressure readings from the left and right arms may herald a higher risk of heart disease, according to an analysis of 24 international studies.

The report, published in the February 2021 issue of Hypertension, included data from more than 57,000 adults in general health clinics who had their blood pressure measured in both arms. Researchers tracked the participants' cardiovascular health for more than a decade.

They found that when people have at least a 5-point difference in blood pressure between the left and right arm, their risk of heart attack, stroke, or premature death rises. And the greater the difference, the more those risks go up. The discrepancy between the two arms may be an early sign of hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis), the root cause of most heart disease.

The findings support the practice of checking blood pressure in both arms, which is recommended but rarely done. If you've never had both arms checked sequentially, ask your physician at your next visit. If the reading from one arm is higher, that side should be the one upon which to base any treatment and to check your blood pressure in the future.

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