What does it mean if blood pressure readings are different for each arm?
Read on to learn more about why you may get different blood pressure readings in each arm and what that may mean for your health.
While a minor difference of fewer than 10 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg)Trusted Source is typically considered within the normal range, readings that are greater than 10 mm Hg different in each arm may be a sign of cardiovascular or circulatory concerns.
According to one 2019 studyTrusted Source, a blood pressure difference of even 10 mm Hg or greater may mean you are at a greater risk of having a stroke or fatal cardiovascular disease.
A 2020 research reviewTrusted Source of 24 studies that included 53, 827 participants, found that an inter-arm difference of greater than or equal to 5 mm Hg may indicate a cardiovascular risk. These researchers recommended that doctors should begin to routinely measure blood pressure in both arms.
A 2016 studyTrusted Source found that a difference in arm-measured blood pressure was associated with more deaths among people with cardiovascular disease.
Another 2019 studyTrusted Source showed that a significant difference in the blood pressures between arms might signal a narrowing or stiffening of the arteries. This can affect blood flow and is a risk factor for heart attack, stroke, or death. Various conditions can also contribute to different inter-arm blood pressure readings.
Other possible reasons you may have different blood pressure readings in each arm include:
Hypertension is a primary cause of different blood pressure readings in each arm. A 2020 study showed that up to 39 percentTrusted Source of people with hypertension have inter-arm blood pressure differences. And, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that with nearly half of American adultsTrusted Source living with hypertension, it’s important to manage the condition to minimize complications or adverse effects on health. Treatment typically includes medication and lifestyle changes such as, eating a balanced diet and engaging in physical activity as best you can.
Monitoring blood pressure with hypertension is important to prevent extreme highs and make sure treatment is working.
Chronic kidney disease
Different inter-arm blood pressures have been reportedTrusted Source in some people with chronic kidney disease (CKD). CKD is a progressive and irreversible condition in which the kidneys start to fail.
Common causes of this include high blood pressure and diabetes. Managing high blood pressure can slow the progression of kidney damage, so it’s important to get accurate blood pressure readings.
Some individuals with diabetes have different blood pressuresTrusted Source in each arm. Without proper insulin levels, high blood sugar occurs, potentially damaging organs and nerves. Over a period of time, diabetes can cause stiffening of the blood vessels, leading to elevated blood pressure.
Peripheral vascular disease
Peripheral vascular disease (PVD) is a circulation disorder. In PVD, the blood vessels leading to and from organs like the heart and brain may become narrow or even become blocked, decreasing blood flow. Blood vessels may also spasm, leading to intermittent narrowing. Individuals with PVD can have different blood pressure measuresTrusted Source in each arm.
PVD causes pain and fatigue, particularly with exercise. This can also cause high blood pressure. High blood pressure can also cause PVD, so monitoring blood pressure and getting accurate readings is important.
Obesity (also called adiposity) has been strongly associatedTrusted Source with inter-arm blood pressure differences. Checking both arms regularly for blood pressure readings may help clinicians determine risk for various conditions like hypertension or diabetes that may affect people with obesity.
There are many advantages to taking blood pressure in both arms. In fact, taking the blood pressure of both arms is recommended by the American Heart Association (AHA)Trusted Source and other professional organizations.
Measuring both arms can help clinicians better determine risk for conditions and hypertension-related organ damage, and give them a better overall picture of health.
Blood pressure can be different in each arm, and a small variation is normal. When the readings are more than 10 points different, there may be an underlying concern or a greater risk of disease.
Taking blood pressure in both arms, especially for people with certain conditions, can be helpful to monitor treatment effectiveness, assess the risk of disease, and get a better clinical picture of overall health.
If you have concerns about your health and blood pressure-related conditions, talk with your doctor about taking blood pressure readings in both arms as part of your regular care.