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Which arm is the best to take your blood pressure? For a long time, doctors used to check the same arm during each visit. Lately, more and more doctors are taking blood pressure twice, once in each arm. If this happened to you, don’t be surprised. Read this article and you will understand why, plus the best way to monitor your blood pressure at home.
Some experts refer to high blood pressure as the “silent killer” because many people have high blood pressure without experiencing any symptoms. Yet, high blood pressure significantly increases the risk to develop heart diseases, stroke, and diabetes.
Thanks to blood pressure monitors that are inexpensive and widely available, you can check your blood pressure anytime you want, in the comfort of your home. Most doctors will run a routine blood pressure exam before or during a medical checkup. Why? Because when doctors detect high blood pressure, they can treat it immediately and avoid complications.
Which Arm Is Best?
You may have heard that the left arm is best since most people favor their right hand, and the blood pressure is a bit higher in the dominant arm. Manufacturers of the blood pressure monitors for home use also tend to design these devices to measure the left arm blood pressure.
Which arm is best, you ask? In fact, the answer is neither the left arm nor the right arm, but both arms! However, the examiner should document both readings, according to the latest scientific studies.
More and more doctors are now reading the blood pressure in both arms, because they know if there is a significant difference between these two readings you will need further investigations. A small difference of few points between your left and right arm blood pressure readings is quite normal, and you should not be worried about it. In young adults, for example, this difference could be due to anatomy, or a muscle compressing the blood vessels of the arm. In older individuals, the underlying problem could be the hardening of the arteries.
When There Is Cause For Concern
However, a variation of more than 10 points between the left and right arm may signal a serious problem. Individuals with a difference of 15 points or more between the right and left arm were two times more likely to have peripheral artery disease (PAD), according to one study.
PAD is the narrowing or blockage of the arteries that carry the blood from the heart to the legs. A buildup of plaques in these blood vessels is usually behind the disease. When blood pressure readings show a 10-15 point difference, this correlates with an increased risk of dying from a stroke or heart disease. It also correlates with cognitive decline, diabetes, kidney diseases, and certain heart defects.
Try measuring the blood pressure in both arms at home
Check your blood pressure in both arms, see some tips below. If you notice a difference of 10 or more points between the left and right hand, book a consultation with your doctor, because this could signal a circulatory problem. You can request an ankle-brachial index test to check for peripheral artery disease.
Upper Arm Cuffs Versus Wrist Cuffs
Blood pressure monitors are fairly easy to find in online stores. The American Heart Association recommends using arm cuffs because wrist and finger cuffs yield less accurate readings. Furthermore, the blood pressure monitors should be “validated”. This label indicates that they are safe for seniors, pregnant women, and children.
The size cuff is also important. If the cuff is too large or too small, it won’t provide an accurate reading. For office readings, doctors have different sizes of cuffs available. For home devices, make sure you get the right cuff. The cuff should cover about 80% of the area from elbow to shoulder and the inflatable part should cover roughly 40% of the circumference of the arm. Your doctor or pharmacist can help you decide which blood pressure monitor is best for you.
How To Measure Your Blood Pressure At Home
- Coffee and other caffeinated beverages, alcohol, and smoke should be avoided at least 30 minutes before taking your blood pressure.
- Sit in a chair. Relax. Sit quietly for a few minutes, take deep breaths, support your back and make sure that your feet are on the floor. Your arms should be supported so your elbow is above heart level
- Wrap the cuff around your upper arm, placing it on bare skin. Follow the instructions and start the monitor to measure the blood pressure.
- After the first reading, leave the deflated cuff in place, wait a few minutes that take your blood pressure again. If the numbers are close, make an average. If the numbers are different (more than 5 points difference), take your blood pressure a third time, then calculate the average of all three.
- Repeat the same steps for the other arm.
- Check your blood pressure regularly and keep a journal. If you notice abnormal blood pressure readings, and significant differences between the left and right arm, book a consultation with your doctor.