Why measure blood pressure in both arms?


Researchers studied the differences in blood pressure measurements taken from both arms.

High blood pressure is one of the leading indicators of cardiovascular disease, which is the number one cause of death in the world. About 1.13 billion people suffer from high blood pressure, although risk factors such as unhealthy diet, sedentary lifestyle, smoking, and consumption of alcohol are largely preventable. 

High blood pressure treatment is most effective for patients most with the highest risk factors. Unfortunately, patients with low and medium risk factors suffer the most cardiovascular events. Researchers are working on new methods to identify those low and medium risk patients.

One way doctors can determine cardiovascular risk is to measure blood pressure in both arms. This measurement is known as interarm differences (IAD). Some studies suggest the difference between blood pressure in each arm can be an indicator of increased risk for cardiovascular disease. Because of the ease and low cost of implementation, interarm blood pressure difference would be an effective way to determine cardiovascular risk.

Researchers from the University of Exeter in England conducted a statistical analysis of 24 global studies of blood pressure to determine whether blood pressure readings from both arms could be used as a measure of cardiovascular risk. Their results were published in the journal Hypertension.

Researchers first gathered study data which included blood pressure in both arms. These searches were performed monthly between April 2016 and January 2017. The studies were then reviewed for eligibility in the statistical analysis. Eligible studies were statistically analyzed, and the data was cross referenced to treatments, risk factors, cardiovascular events, and deaths.

The study found that the difference between blood pressure in both arms is a valuable way to predict patients’ risk for a cardiovascular event and death. Each 1-point increase in IAD increased the patients’ risk for a deadly cardiovascular event by 1-2% and risk for death by 1% over the following ten years.

The study also suggested patients with an IAD greater than 5 mmHg were more likely to die. Researchers hope that IAD will be used as an easy, cost-effective addition to the assessment of patients’ cardiovascular risk.

Written by: Rebecca K. Blankenship


1. Clark C, Warren F, Boddy K et al. Associations Between Systolic Interarm Differences in Blood Pressure and Cardiovascular Disease Outcomes and Mortality. Hypertension. 2020. doi:10.1161/hypertensionaha.120.15997

Image by Gerald Oswald from Pixabay 

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