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This Blood Pressure Mistake Can Cause ‘Strikingly Inaccurate’ Readings

Millions of people check their blood pressure at home by using an automated device. However, a blood pressure cuff that is the wrong size for your arm can result in “strikingly inaccurate” readings, according to a new study.

For example, a regular-size cuff used on someone who should be using a small cuff results in a systolic blood pressure reading that is 3.6 points lower on average than the true reading, according to research recently published in JAMA Internal Medicine, a journal of the American Medical Association.

Systolic pressure is the “upper” number in a blood pressure reading.

Using a regular-size cuff on someone who would benefit from a larger-size cuff pushed systolic blood pressure up by an average of 4.8 compared to reality, and pushed diastolic pressure up by 19.5.

The 195 participants in the study had an average age of 54. About half (51%) of them had hypertension.

Getting an accurate blood pressure reading is crucial to maintaining good health. High blood pressure — or hypertension — can lead to a variety of diseases, including:

  • Heart attack
  • Heart failure
  • Stroke
  • Kidney disease or failure
  • Vision loss
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Peripheral artery disease (PAD)

As the American Heart Association points out:

“When your blood pressure is high for too long, it damages your blood vessels – and LDL (bad) cholesterol begins to accumulate along tears in your artery walls. This leads to narrowed arteries and increases the workload of your circulatory system while decreasing its efficiency.”

The study authors are calling for a renewed emphasis on choosing a blood pressure cuff that is the appropriate size. They say this is particularly important for those with larger arms.

The American Heart Association and the American Medical Association host a joint website that can help you figure out the right cuff for your arm size.

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