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With Blood Pressure, Both Arms Matter

Posted on 01/31/2012 by |Personal Health and Well-being | Comments

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The next time you get your blood pressure checked, ask them to measure it in both arms.

If the readings for the left and right arm have markedly different top numbers, it could be a sign of vascular disease and an increased risk of death,  a new British study shows.

With consequences that serious, you’d think that doctors would routinely check both arms. And they’re supposed to, according to medical guidelines.

Unfortunately, most doctors don’t do it, say the authors of the study published Monday in The Lancet.

In Britain, fewer than half of all doctors say they make a habit of measuring blood pressure in both arms, and the same is likely in the U.S., Christopher Clark, M.D., lead author of the study,  told the New York Times.

(Think about it — when was the last time you had both arms measured? Ever?)

“Recommendations to measure both arms exist in both British and American blood pressure management guidelines… but it’s guidance that isn’t regularly followed,” Clark said.

Clark and his team studied the data from 28 studies, looking at the difference in systolic blood pressure readings (the top number in blood pressure measurement) between two arms in patients.

Their analysis found that a difference of as little as 15 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) between readings meant a greater risk of blocked arteries either to the legs or to the brain.

A difference in readings was also associated with a 70 percent higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease and a 60 percent increased risk of death from any cause, the authors wrote.

It didn’t matter which arm had the lower or higher blood pressure, the researchers said, it’s the difference that is important.  It indicates that one artery is more blocked on one side than on the other, and needs further attention or treatment.

Doctors who only measure one arm may be falsely reassured that blood pressure is normal, Clark told the Times. But unless they measure both arms, they are “not going to make the right diagnosis and the right treatment choices” for patients.

In other health news:

Surgery robots — more expensive, not necessarily better. Robotic surgery costs more, but the latest study adds to doubts that it’s really better than traditional methods. Study looks at women treated for endometrial cancer and complication rates were the same whether robot — costing $1,300 more — or the low-tech laparoscopy approach was used.

“Special K” — the drug, not the cereal — holds hope for severe depression. Ketamine, an FDA-approved anesthetic that’s been dubbed “Special K” when used as a club drug, can relieve suicidal depression in a matter of hours and may hold the key for developing new depression drugs.

Doing a little cocaine on the weekends? You may die earlier. Those still dabbling in hard drugs into their 50s — even just a few days a month — are five times more likely to die earlier than those who do not, a new study by University of Alabama at Birmingham finds. Although most who experiment with drugs as young adults stop, a federal survey says 9.4 percent of Americans ages 50 to 59 reported use of a drug other than marijuana in the past year.

FDA approves new skin cancer drug. Erivedge is the first drug ever approved for treating basal cell carcinoma, the most common form of skin cancer. This type of cancer affects about 2.8 million Americans annually. It’s usually not fatal, but can be very disfiguring if allowed to spread.

Photo: metromasti.com