Although even in hospitals, most routine health checkups measure blood pressure only in one arm, and in certain special cases (such as the first checkup at the cardiologist), both arms are measured. This measurement is further used as a marker for the calculating the risk of heart disease in the patient. Experts have been supporting the motion for checking both arms in routine checkups as well.
The practice of measuring both arms is not widespread, therefore you can always request the doctor to measure in both arms. The arm with the higher reading should be used for further measurements. Whereas the arm with the lower readings should be investigated further as it can stem from abnormalities such as coarctation, stenosis, and dissection.
A minor difference in blood pressure readings between arms isn’t harmful to your health. A difference of more than 10 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) between your top (systolic) and bottom (diastolic) numbers is acceptable, on the other hand, a difference higher than 10 millimeters could be a warning for heart problems. In fact, high differences can also lead to peripheral vascular disease, cerebrovascular disease, strokes, and an early death due to heart and circulatory problems.
Peripheral vascular disease is a circulatory condition in which narrow blood vessels reduce the blood flow to the limbs. It is a sign of fat deposits and calcium build up in the walls of the arteries. Risk factors include ageing, diabetes and smoking. Early diagnosis can help the patient make changes in their lifestyle as soon as possible in order to control the disease from reaching its terminal end.
The difference can also increase the risk of cerebrovascular disease by 60%. Cerebrovascular disease is damage to the brain due to interrupted blood supply. It can cause symptoms like strokes, carotid stenosis, vertebral stenosis and intracranial stenosis, aneurysms, and vascular malformations.
If you have a larger difference between the two arm readings, it can be a sign of the following health problems:
• Blocked arteries in your arms
• Cognitive decline
• Kidney disease
• Heart defect
Taking measurements in both arms can help you recognize these health problems and take steps as soon as possible to improve your health condition.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for the difference in either arm’s blood pressure readings. However, there are certain steps you can take in your day-to-day life to keep your blood pressure to a healthy level:
• Incorporate physical exercise in your routine (a minimum of 30 minutes should do the trick!).
• Have a healthy diet, include fresh vegetables and fruits as much as possible.
• Aim for a healthy weight, try and reduce 5-10% of your starting body weight and you will see a difference.
• Ease your mind. Take a break, try not to stress too much and meditate.
• Minimize alcohol intake. Try not to exceed 2 drinks per day.
• Reduce smoking and try to quit. Tobacco smoke is very harmful for the lungs and arteries. Secondhand smoke can also be dangerous, therefore avoid as much as possible.
• Avoid taking medicines containing pseudoephedrine.
It is better to talk to your doctor about your blood pressure and take your blood pressure in both arms. However, you should know that blood pressure is not the only contributing factor to any of the above-mentioned diseases. Several other factors also play a role such as genetics, cholesterol levels, etc. It is advised that you take an annual health checkup in order to monitor all levels in the body and consult with a doctor about any warning signs.