What can it mean when one arm has higher blood pressure than the other?
“Blood pressure readings come from the blood flowing through the vessels in the arm (or leg) which can be heard with a stethoscope,” says Donna Denier, MD, with The Cardiology Center with the Appalachian Regional Healthcare System.
“When readings are significantly different on both sides (20 systolic points or 10 diastolic points), it suggests that the flow of blood is different on the two sides,” continues Dr. Denier.
Blood Flow Differs on Both Sides of the Arm: Why Is This?
Dr. Denier explains, “Things that block flow in the arms are the same as those which cause blockage in the coronary arteries or other arteries in the body.”
This means that the arteries in the arm are clogged with the same fatty deposits or plaque that are involved with coronary artery disease.
“Diseases like chronic kidney disease and diabetes or conditions like high cholesterol or habits like cigarette smoking can all lead to blockage in the arteries anywhere in the body,” warns Dr. Denier.
“Finding it in the arms can be a warning that other vessels may also be blocked.”
If the blood pressure of one of your arms is higher than the other, you should undergo cardiac testing to see if your coronary arteries might have blockages.
One such test is the treadmill (or stationary bike) echocardiogram stress test. It measures blood flow through the three main coronary arteries during the exertion of exercise.
Home BP Measuring
- Before taking the measurement, make sure you have been seated and calm for five minutes.
- Do not cross your legs.
- The device’s cuff should be against bare skin, not clothes.
- Keep the arm that’s being measured resting on a table or chair rest.
As innocuous as this finding may seem—blood pressure higher in one arm—you should report this to your doctor if you’ve discovered it with a home device.
Dr. Denier has been practicing medicine for over 15 years and is board certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine – Cardiovascular Disease.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.