Taking blood pressure in both arms may find silent heart disease

Published: Monday, Jan. 30 2012 10:29 a.m. MST

Dr. Edward Wyne takes the blood pressure of patient Brent Scott at Intermountain Senior Clinic in Murray, Wednesday, July 6, 2011.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

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Health care providers should measure blood pressure in both arms, because a difference in readings may indicate heart disease and increased risk of death.

That's the finding of British researchers from the University of Exeter Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry, published online Monday in The Lancet.

Increasingly, experts are calling for both-arm blood pressure checks to be a standard of care, the researchers said in a release about the study.

"This is an important (finding) for the general public and for primary care doctors," Dr. William O'Neill, professor of cardiology and executive dean of clinical affairs at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine told U.S. News and World Report's HealthDay. "Traditionally, most people just check blood pressure in one arm, but if there is a difference, then one of the arteries has disease in it."

The researchers studied 28 papers covering differences between arms in the systolic blood pressure, which is the upper number in the blood pressure reading. A difference of 15mm HG or more was associated with increased risk of narrowing and hardening of the arteries that supply blood to the feet and legs and cerebrovascular disease that affects the blood supply to the brain and may lead to dementia, stroke and other issues. They also found an increased risk of death. Just 10mm HG was sometimes associated with the peripheral vascular disease, affecting leg and foot blood supply.

Dr. Christopher Clark, lead researcher and a clinical academic fellow at Peninsula, described a "strong association" between the difference in blood pressure readings between arms and vascular disease and mortality.

WebMD noted that when vascular disease is detected at an early stage, the following treatments can reduce death rates: stopping smoking, lowering blood pressure or prescribing statin therapy.

A blood pressure reading above 140/90mm is consider high blood pressure. The study said that a difference of 15mm translated to a 2.5-fold extra risk of peripheral vascular disease, while the risk of cerebrovascular disease increased 1.5 times.

Clark told the Daily Mail that a lower reading in one arm indicated a reduction in blood flow and said patients checking their blood pressures at home should also take readings in both arms. "PVD is often diagnosed based on symptoms such as difficulty walking," he told the British newspaper. "By finding a difference in blood pressure between arms, it is possible we could investigate potential problems at an earlier stage, even in patients who do not have high blood pressure."

EMAIL: lois@desnews.com, Twitter: Loisco

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