Background When the upper arm (area from shoulder to elbow) is inaccessible and/or a standard-sized blood pressure cuff does not fit, some healthcare workers use the forearm to measure blood pressure.

Objective To compare automatic noninvasive measurements of blood pressure in the upper arm and forearm.

Methods A descriptive, correlational comparison study was conducted in the emergency department of a 1071-bed teaching hospital. Subjects were 204 English-speaking patients 6 to 91 years old in medically stable condition who had entered the department on foot or by wheelchair and who had no exclusions to using their left upper extremity. A Welch Allyn Vital Signs 420 series monitor was used to measure blood pressure in the left upper arm and forearm with the subject seated and the upper arm or forearm at heart level.

Results Pearson r correlation coefficients between measurements in the upper arm and forearm were 0.88 for systolic blood pressure and 0.76 for diastolic blood pressure (P < .001 for both). Mean systolic pressures, but not mean diastolic pressures, in the upper arm and forearm differed significantly (t = 2.07, P = .04). A Bland-Altman analysis indicated that the distances between the mean values and the limits of agreement for the 2 sites ranged from 15 mm Hg (mean arterial pressure) to 18.4 mm Hg (systolic pressure).

Conclusions Despite strict attention to correct cuff size and placement of the upper arm or forearm at heart level, measurements of blood pressure obtained noninvasively in the arm and forearm of seated patients in stable condition are not interchangeable.

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