Authors of a new study are calling for blood pressure to be measured in both arms and the higher reading used to ensure diagnosis of high blood pressure is not missed.

A team from the University of Exeter looked at data from more than 53,000 people in 23 studies from across the world to determine what happens when the higher or lower blood pressure reading is used.

They found that had the higher reading would have seen 12% of the participants reclassified as having hypertension – if the lower reading was used, they would not have been diagnosed with the condition.

Study lead Dr Christopher Clark, from the University of Exeter, said: “High blood pressure is a global issue and poor management can be fatal. This study shows that failure to measure both arms and use the higher reading arm will not only result in underdiagnosis and undertreatment of high blood pressure but also under-estimation of cardiovascular risks for millions of people worldwide.”

The practice of measuring blood pressure in both arms is not widely used, despite international guidelines to this effect.

Dr Clark said: “It’s impossible to predict the best arm for blood pressure measurement as some people have a higher reading in their left arm compared to right and equal numbers have the opposite. Therefore, it’s important to check both arms as detecting high blood pressure correctly is a vital step towards giving the right treatment to the right people.

“Our study now provides the first evidence that the higher reading arm blood pressure is the better predictor of future cardiovascular risk.”

Researchers also found that using the higher blood pressure readings was also a better predictor of all-cause mortality, cardiovascular mortality, and cardiovascular events.

The study has been published in the journal Hypertension.

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