The inter-arm blood pressure difference and peripheral vascular disease: cross-sectional study

Fam Pract. 2007 Oct;24(5):420-6. doi: 10.1093/fampra/cmm035. Epub 2007 Aug 1.


Background: A blood pressure (BP) difference between the upper limbs is often encountered in primary care. Knowledge of its prevalence and importance in the accurate measurement of BP is poor, representing a source of error. Current hypertension guidelines do not emphasize this.

Objectives: To establish the prevalence of an inter-arm blood pressure difference (IAD) and explore its association with other indicators of peripheral vascular disease (PVD) in a hypertensive primary care population.

Methods: This was a cross-sectional study. Primary care, one rural general practice, was the setting of the study. The methods were controlled simultaneous measurement of brachial BPs, ankle-brachial pressure index (ABPI) and tiptoe stress testing in 94 subjects.

Results: In all, 18 of 94 [19%, 95% confidence interval (CI) 11-27%] subjects had mean systolic inter-arm difference (sIAD) > or =10 mmHg and seven of 94 (7%, 95% CI 2-12%) had mean diastolic inter-arm difference (dIAD) > or =10 mmHg. Nineteen of 91 (20%, 95% CI 12-28%) had a reduced ABPI <0.9. There was negative correlation between systolic (Pearson's correlation coefficient - 0.378; P = 0.01) and diastolic (Pearson's correlation coefficient - 0.225; P = 0.05) magnitudes of IAD with ABPI. On tiptoe testing, 9/90 subjects (10%, 95% CI 4-16%) had a pressure drop > or =20%.

Conclusions: An IAD and asymptomatic PVD are common in a primary care hypertensive population. Magnitude of the IAD is inversely correlated with ABPI, supporting the hypotheses that IADs are causally linked to PVD, and that IAD is a useful marker for the presence of PVD. Consequently, detection of an IAD should prompt the clinician to screen subjects for other signs of vascular disease and target them for aggressive cardiovascular risk factor modification.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Ankle / blood supply
  • Arm / blood supply*
  • Blood Pressure Determination / methods*
  • Body Mass Index
  • Brachial Artery / physiopathology
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • England
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypertension / complications*
  • Hypertension / diagnosis
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Peripheral Vascular Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Peripheral Vascular Diseases / physiopathology
  • Primary Health Care / statistics & numerical data
  • Rural Health Services / statistics & numerical data
  • Systole