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Kids' blood pressure should be taken in both arms for most accurate readings

Experts found that variations between kids’ arms may lead to a misdiagnosis of high blood pressure

Photo (c) Judith Haeusler - Getty Images
A new study conducted by researchers from Murdoch Children’s Research Institute explored some of the best practices and risks related to taking kids’ blood pressure readings.

According to the team, it’s important for health care professionals to measure kids’ blood pressure in both arms to get the best accuracy. 

They explained that just taking the reading on one arm can misdiagnose kids’ risk of having high blood pressure; however, after reading both arms, doctors can make a clearer assessment of kids’ health

“Misdiagnosis could occur when the blood pressure difference is greater than about 5 mmHg, but one in seven healthy children had a difference greater than 10 mmHg, which could lead to a failure to identify stage one or two hypertension,” said researcher Melanie Clarke. 

“Given blood pressure measured in a child’s right and left arm are often different, it’s important to take measurements in both arms to make a correct diagnosis,” she said. “Accurate blood pressure assessment in kids is critical for identifying the potential risk for damage to the heart and blood vessels, which can lead to early-onset cardiovascular disease.” 

Making a correct diagnosis

The researchers had 118 kids between the ages of seven and 18 participate in the study. The team measured the participants’ blood pressure in both arms, analyzed the differences in the readings, and then focused on the significance behind those differences. 

The study showed that 25 percent of the kids involved in the study with no previous heart conditions showed a significant difference in their blood pressure readings between their two arms. This is important because if a doctor only measures one arm, they’re not getting the complete picture. Kids who have high blood pressure, or who are at risk of having high blood pressure, could be missed because if doctors don’t get all the data that’s available to them.

“There are good clinical reasons for measuring blood pressure in both arms in children and adolescents in the evaluation of hypertension and this study provides clear support for this approach,” said researcher Gary Jennings. 

The researchers also learned that the difference in readings was even more common in kids who had a history with heart concerns. This makes it all the more necessary for doctors to check both of kids’ arms to ensure that they’re delivering the most accurate course of treatment. Having high blood pressure during childhood can often lead to high blood pressure in adulthood, so it’s important for parents, kids, and their doctors to know the risks.

“We know high blood pressure is common in adults but many people don’t realize how common it is in kids too,” said Mynard. “More work needs to be done to draw attention to the problem of childhood hypertension and its long-term consequences.” 

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