When you have your blood pressure taken, does your provider and  staff take your blood pressure on both sides? You might want to consider this, because of the potential for poor cardiovascular health and increased mortality risk.

According to literature1, patients with a substantial difference in blood pressure between the right and left arm can signal an increased risk for cardiovascular problems. A difference of 10 points or more in the systolic reading (the upper number as in 120/80) is linked to an increased likelihood of blocked artery. A difference of 15 points or more have an increased risk of peripheral vascular disease.

Peripheral vascular disease is the hardening or narrowing of the arteries that supply the arms and legs with blood. They can become clogged from atherosclerosis with buildup of fatty plaque. If one or more artery is blocked, there is a difference in the blood pressure in the arms. One can then understand the increased risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke, which in turn can mean a 70% increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease and 60% increased risk of death from any cause over a 10-year period.

An individual with a significant difference in the blood pressure between the two arms should be evaluated for cardiovascular risk factors- for example smoker, obesity or diabetic. In addition, non-invasive tests or imaging studies might be indicated to evaluate for peripheral vascular disease. Lastly, the individual will likely be educated regarding lessening potential risk factors including regular exercise, weight loss, smoking cessation, medications to normalize blood pressure and lower bad cholesterol levels.

Blood pressure measurements then should be done in both arms and should be considered a component of primary care examinations. Detection of differences in from one arm to another should then prompt the provider to perform further vascular assessments and aggressive management of potential risk factors.