I am trying to find out if weight lifters with muscular upper-arms will have higher blood pressure readings due to the upper-arm size and the amount of cuff-pressure it takes to read the blood pressure through the muscle. I have a 17 1/2" upper arm circumference and my systolic pressure is continually reading in the mid-140's. My diastolic is in the lower 70's with a pulse rate of 58 (average). My Doctor is not very familiar with weight lifters bodies, so I would like him to refer me to a Sports Medicine Doctor, but I need get him some opinions on the issue. Thank-you for assisting me with this matter.
Post by Glenn Fleisig, Ph.D. on Mar 13, 2010 16:44:20 GMT -6
I spoke with one our our sports medicine physicians knowledgeable about this topic. This is what she said:
The most important thing about measuring blood pressure is making sure the cuff is big enough. The bladder (the part of the cuff that fills with air when it's pumped up) should cover at least 85% of your upper arm to give an accurate measurement. Usually sphygmomanometers (a.k.a. blood pressure machines) come with multiple cuffs to suit all ages and sizes and can be easily exchanged, but the cuff that's usually on the sphyg is a standard adult size. If you lift a lot of weights, I imagine that cuff will be too small for you. A small cuff will give a consistently higher reading than it should. So that's the first tip. If your doctor doesn't have a larger cuff that will fit you, he or she can try measuring your blood pressure on your lower arm, which should be smaller and may fit the standard adult cuff.
In a lot of doctor's offices, an electronic cuff is used, which doesn't require the use of a stethoscope to measure blood pressure, it just requires slipping on the cuff and touching a button and then the measurement is taken automatically. These machines are fairly notorious for giving bad measurements, so whenever we get a really high measurement, we re-measure "the old-fashioned way" with a stethoscope and manually pumped cuff. Your blood pressures are not incredibly high, so if they were measured by an automatic machine, you can always ask that your blood pressure be measured again manually.
Finally, weight lifters/body builders do tend to have high blood pressure because of the activity they engage in. When you lift a heavy weight, you tend to hold your breath and your systemic vascular resistance - the tone of the muscle that lines your arteries - goes up, which makes your blood pressure go up. You may in fact have slightly higher blood pressure than you would if you engaged purely in aerobic activities like running, for example. If you do not have a component of aerobic exercise in your routine, it may be time to include that. Your systemic vascular resistance goes down with most aerobic exercise because your arterial smooth muscle relaxes.
Dr. Fleisig, Thank-you for your assistance with this situation. I will have my physician's office try taking the measurement on my forearm. I will also ask them to re-asses the measurements using a manual pump and stethoscope. I very much appreciate your taking the time and effort to help me with this. I would also like to thank Ms. Bolt for refering me to this forum. She said there were great professionals here who could assist me -- and she was correct. RJM.
It is well established that a larger cuff is needed to accurately measure blood pressure with a large arm, but to address the specific question of whether it takes more pressure to compress a muscular arm, I'm not convinced that any studies have been done that address that point. I am a 51 year old pharmacist and I've been lifting weights since I was 13. My systolic reading has always been mid 130's to mid 140's and my diastolic usually below 70. A muscular arm most obviously has a different density and consistency than a fat one. Kind of like the difference between squeezing a tennis ball and squeezing a half-deflated balloon. I think more studies need to be done.
ddlgakm, sir, I would be interested in finding out if you feel the need take anything to bring your stated systolic reading down. I understand if you choose not to answer, but either way, thank-you for your answer above. Also, I have taken my pressure both on my upper-arm and on my lower-arm, as Dr. Fleisig suggested above. The upper-arm reading is consistantly in the lower 140's (systolic) and the lower arm reading usually hovers around 130. The pulse rate is the same and the Diastolic usually reads about 5 points lower when taken on the lower-arm. Thanks again for you post.
My cardiologist started me on lisinopril about a year and a half ago because my systolic had creeped up to where it was consistently above 140 or even 150 and I was having occasional episodes of atrial fibrillation. The lisinopril brought my systolic reading down, but also pushed my diastolic reading down to around 60, which was adversely affecting the way I feel. I decided about 2 months ago to try sodium restriction instead and have nearly weaned myself off of the lisinopril. I realize that in my case I was apparently recently developing isolated systolic hypertension, but your post kind of struck a nerve because it described me almost perfectly. Even as a teenager my systolic was running mid 130's. I just felt that the specific question you had about a muscular arm requiring more pressure to compress was being side-stepped because it has not been studied to my knowledge. Now, having said all that, I wonder if longtime athletes are more likely to develop atrial fibrillation? I guess that's a topic for a different discussion.
Hi all, I am a fitness trainer and have been lifting since last ten years. I also have the same concern, but my point is different when it comes to considering muscular arm for BP reading. To me, a toned up bicep that is already putting pressure on the vessels around arm, needs less pressure as compared to a soft fatty arm for accurate BP reading. As vessels are already under a little more pressure because of suppression by the tight muscle. Despite all, one thing is for sure that lifting heavy will lead to hypertension. So, what i have concluded is that taking care of your heart and other organs is much more important than gaining huge muscles. Set the priorities...... and huge muscles definitely are not at the top of the list. lift at mild intensity and add in cardio. Thanks, Faheem.
I am also having this very same problem. I am consistently measuring systolic between 140 and 150 and diastolic between 70 and 80, using digital blood pressure monitors. I started lifting weights when I was 20 years old and I am now 33 and have trained and continue to train regularly, every week 3-5 days. I know for a fact that my blood pressure was in the "normal" range (110/70) about 8 years ago and appears to have slowly crept up as my muscle mass (especially arms) and ultimately weight crept up as well. I am using the right size cuff for my arms (18.5" cold) so the cuff is not the issue. It sort of made no sense to me that an otherwise healthy individual (I don't smoke, don't drink alcohol or coffee, have normal cholesterol, good blood work, good diet and obviously fitter than average) would have what appears to be ISH (isolated systolic hypertension), a condition normally seen in older people.
I eventually came across SSH (Spurious Systolic Hypertension) which may seem like the most likely explanation how some of us young and fit individuals appear to have isolated systolic hypertension.