Study reveals importance of measuring kids’ blood pressure in both arms

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Conversations surrounding blood pressure often are focused on adults. But a new study reveals just how important it is to measure children’s blood pressure to avoid the potential for misdiagnosis.

A study led by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Australia discovered that a small difference between the blood pressure measurements in the right and left arms can possibly result in an incorrect diagnosis.

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Researchers gathered 118 participants from a Melbourne, Australia cardiology day clinic to conduct the study. The participants ranged in age from 7 to 18. Results showed that one in four healthy children had an interarm difference that could produce a misdiagnosis. The rate doubled for children who had a history of aortic surgery. This type of surgical repair is frequently done on infants who have congenital heart disease.

According to lead author Melanie Clarke, this was the first global study to determine the size and frequency of interarm blood pressure differences in children and adolescents.

“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,” she said in a press release. Clarke also noted the high rates of misclassification were because of the small difference between a normal and hypertensive measurement.

“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 continued. “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.”

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Worldwide, high blood pressure is one of the leading risk factors of heart disease and stroke. In the U.S., high blood pressure and high cholesterol are among major risk factors “because it damages the lining of the arteries, making them more susceptible to the buildup of plaque, which narrows the arteries leading to the heart and brain,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported. The agency found that over 1 in 7 U.S. youth who are 12 to 19 years old had high or elevated blood pressure or elevated blood pressure from 2013 to 2016.

“Children with high blood pressure, many of whom appear to be healthy, have a greater risk of developing hypertension in adulthood, a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease,” Jonathan Mynard, an associate professor at MCRI, said in a statement.

He also noted that while it’s known that high blood pressure is common in adults, “many people don’t realize how common it is in kids too. Parents can help by encouraging their kids to eat a healthy diet that is low in salt and sugary drinks, and high in fruit, vegetables, and whole grains, and to engage in lots of physical activity.”

The CDC further recommends that parents become role models for their children. Parents should eat healthy snacks and get the proper amount of exercise each day.

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