Has your doctor ever checked your blood pressure in both arms? If not, you’re missing out on a valuable test of heart health.
That’s the conclusion of Harvard instructor Ido Weinberg, MD, whose recent research shows that a more than 10-point difference in systolic blood pressure between arms can be a red flag for heart attack, stroke, and cardiovascular disease.
You’d expect that it wouldn’t matter which arm the nurse puts the cuff on – blood pressure is blood pressure, right? Not so fast.
According to Weinberg’s study, published in the March issue of theAmerican Journal of Medicine, about 10 percent of adults over 40 had interarm differences of more than 10 points – and this point spread was associated with an almost 40 percent increase in risk of heart attack, stroke, or other cardiovascular event.
A blood pressure cuff might be the best test for cardiovascular disease.
While experts knew that very large differences in arm-to-arm blood pressure readings could suggest cardiovascular disease, this is the first research to link a relatively small difference of just 10 points with significantly increased risk.
As part of Harvard/Massachusetts General Hospital’s Framingham Heart Study, the researchers followed 3390 healthy people age 40 and older (with no prior sign of heart disease), over a period of 13 years and found a 38% risk increase in those with a 10-point or greater arm-to-arm difference. (The average arm-to-arm or interarm difference, the researchers say, is less than 5 points.)
Why is having a difference in blood pressure one one side of the body so significant? Because it suggests blockage or slowing of blood flow, most likely from artery-clogging plaque. The other potential cause, an aortic dissection or tear in the aorta, is even more serious.
Concludes Weinberg: “This study supports the potential value of identifying the interarm systolic blood pressure difference as a simple clinical indicator of increased cardiovascular risk.”
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