Researchers have identified a surprisingly simple method for catching a silent but deadly condition that increases the risk of stroke and heart disease: Check both arms for differences in blood pressure.
People with significant variations in systolic blood pressure – the top number in readings -- in their right and left arms have a greater risk of having peripheral artery disease (PAD), according to a new study published online in The Lancet.
PAD is a narrowing of the arteries in the extremities that, unchecked, can lead to heart disease and even death.
British researchers reviewed 28 studies that measured blood pressure in both arms. They found people who have a difference in pressure — of at least 15 millimeters of mercury -- are 2.5 times more likely to have PAD than those with a smaller variation between the two.
Those with the bigger variations face a 70 percent greater risk of dying from cardiovascular disease and a 60 percent increased risk of death from any cause, the study suggested.
The researchers, from Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, said their findings indicate routine blood-pressure checks – now typically taken using just one arm – should now be done with both of a patient's arms.
More work is needed to determine whether a substantial difference in blood pressure between arms should prompt aggressive management of cardiovascular risk factors, said Richard McManus, of the University of Oxford, and Jonathan Mant, of the University of Cambridge, in an editorial accompanying the study.