Wide Swings in Your Blood Pressure May Signal Trouble

Blood pressure is a boring subject, I get it. We all know it should be low and that for far too many people, it isn’t.

But I wouldn’t bring it up unless it was important, and folks, I’m talking super-important here. Specifically, I’m going to lay out what having wide swings in your blood pressure readings all the time could mean, according to some recent studies.

Blood pressure readings aren’t meant to be the same all the time, of course. A different measurement method or even switching arms can causing readings to change. A slight difference isn’t much to write home about, but a study out of the University of Alabama has discovered that wider variations across readings could signal trouble down the line.

During the study, 25,814 men and women aged 55 and older who had high blood pressure had their readings taken seven times over 22 months to see how much variability there was between their diastolic (bottom number) and systolic (top number) readings across the visits (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26215765). After the 22-month period ended, they followed the participants for about three years to see who developed heart disease–including strokes and heart attacks–and who died. The goal of the study was to see whether patients with greater variability in their readings had increased heart events.

The researchers found that the greater the variability in blood pressure over the 22-month period, the higher the chances the participant suffered a heart event. The one-fifth of the participants who had the most variability in their readings were 30 percent more likely to die of cardiovascular disease or have a non-fatal heart attack when compared to the people in the lowest one-fifth. Stroke chances were 46 percent higher, heart failure risk was 25 percent higher, and the risk for death from any cause was 58 percent higher in the top one-fifth than the lowest one-fifth.

Of course, researchers still can’t say for certain it was the blood pressure variations in the highest one-fifth that caused the health problems they suffered as the study couldn’t prove cause and effect. It does signal, however, that maybe it’s time to keep an eye on blood pressure regularly and not just when you’re at risk because it’s very high.

If you have high blood pressure, it may be a good idea to get a home monitor so you can take regular readings to share with your doctor. These readings will give your doctor a more accurate idea of your blood pressure range than just the readings taken when you visit the doctor’s office alone.