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Why Blood Pressure Should Be Checked in Both Arms

Gaps between the numbers indicate higher health risks

Robert Roy Britt
3 min readJan 3, 2021

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Differences in blood pressure between a person’s arms can indicate increased health risks. A large new study not only confirms that fact but reveals that the bigger the difference, the greater the odds of a heart attack, stroke or other deadly cardiovascular event. Because doctors and nurses don’t always check both arms, feel free to ask them to.

Blood pressure, which indicates how hard the heart has to work, is measured by two numbers. The upper measure (systolic) marks the maximum pressure during the repeat pulses from the heart; the lower figure (diastolic) represents minimum pressure. When the top number exceeds 130 or the bottom number exceeds 80, a person is said to have hypertension, also called high blood pressure. Hypertension, often referred to as the “silent killer,” raises the risk of premature death from several afflictions, including heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

A 2014 study of 3,900 U.S. adults found those with at least a 10-point difference in the top number from one arm to the other were 38% more likely to have a heart attack or some other cardiovascular event during a 13-year period.

The new research, published December 21 in the journal Hypertension, involved a review of 24 separate global studies, merged to analyze data on 54,000 people in Europe, Africa, Asia and the United States across a decade. It showed that a 10-point interarm difference is a lower threshold indicating increased death from heart attacks and other cardiovascular issues.

Each point of additional difference between arms additionally raises risk by another 1%, the new study found. The scientists think the interarm difference indicates arteries are narrowed or stiffened, a condition linked to hypertension that is known to make blood flow more difficult and can lead to blockages that cut off blood supply to the heart, brain or other organs.

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Robert Roy Britt

Editor of Aha! and Wise & Well on Medium + the Writer's Guide at writersguide.substack.com. Author of Make Sleep Your Superpower: amazon.com/dp/B0BJBYFQCB