Tip: Don't Fall Prey To This Medical Mistake

It's highly likely that lifters will mistakenly be diagnosed with high blood pressure. Here's why.

Medical Politics, Inefficiency, and Sloppiness

You may be the healthiest son of a gun who ever lived, with an industrial grade, steampunk cardiovascular system with flexible, unclogged arteries and veins like garden hoses, but it's possible, even likely, that you'll be diagnosed with high blood pressure the next time you put on a butt-exposing gown at the doctor's office.

High blood pressure is a problem because it means your heart has to work extra hard to push oxygenated blood into your body and then pull it back for recycling. All this pressure can cause one of your hoses to become blocked or even blow, which could result in heart attack or stroke.

But don't worry, you'll be given blood pressure drugs to presumably save you from this alleged disease, drugs that often cause you to feel tired, make you dizzy, or give you problems in the sack.

Perversely, though, you probably won't actually have high blood pressure. You'll just be another victim of medical politics, inefficiency, and sloppiness. You're also a weightlifter, which poses another problem unto itself.

Every couple of years, the American Heart Association (AHA) gets together and, after filling up surgical gloves with saline and dropping them off the hotel roof onto passersby, decides to lower the cholesterol guidelines so that tens of thousands of additional people have to be put on statins.

This year, they decided to mess around with blood pressure (BP), declaring that the old readings were no longer valid. It used to be that normal was under 140/90. Now, normal is under 120/80.

That means that about half of the U.S. population will be considered as having high blood pressure and perhaps be prescribed medicines to combat it.

The horrific part of it is that hardly any nurse, physician's assistant, or even physician knows how to take BP correctly, thus contributing to what must be an untold number of false positives.

It's up to you to make sure you do the following when they take your blood pressure:

  • Avoid stimulation. Don't drink coffee, exercise, or smoke within 30 minutes of the test.
  • Relax. You need to sit in the room quietly for at least 5 minutes before anyone attempts to take your BP. Then, when they take it, don't talk.
  • Sit the right way. You need to be sitting in a regular chair with a back with your feet flat on the floor (and don't cross your legs). Don't merely sit upright on the exam table.
  • Piss. Empty your bladder before the test.
  • Position your arm correctly. Your upper arm must be supported at mid-heart level, and your elbow must be bent at a 45-degree angle.

Furthermore, accurate measurements need to be obtained from two careful readings on at least two separate occasions. Ignoring any of these guidelines could give inaccurate numbers and lead to a false positive, prompting the doc to prescribe medicines you don't need.

There's one more thing you need to watch out for, too, particularly if you're a lifter.

Cuff Sizes

A few years back, researchers at the Mexican Universidad de Guadalajara conducted a study on two hundred bodybuilders who'd just competed in the Mexican National Fitness and Bodybuilding Championships.

The researchers wanted to see if arm size influenced blood pressure readings, so they measured the BP of all of them using both a standard (medium) cuff and a large cuff.

There was no difference between readings using the standard cuff and the large cuff, as long as the subject's arm circumference was less than about 13 inches (that seems small, but there were a lot of women in the show, too). However, things went screwy when the subject's arm circumference was above 13 inches and they used the standard cuff.

On average, the standard, ill-fitting cuff caused their systolic blood pressure (the top number in BP reading) to trend about 8 points higher.

What this means is that if you've lifted weights for any length of time, your arm circumference is likely too big for the standard cuff and you're going to get a false positive. Sweet-talk the person taking your BP to go into the closet and blow off the dust from the big boy cuff.

Doctors often have to cover their ass from lawsuits so they tend to pathologize even the slightest anomaly that pops up in medical tests. That's why they often prescribe so many tests and drugs.

You can't really blame them, but you need to do what you can, when you can, to prevent those anomalies from popping up, and assuring a proper blood pressure reading is an easy fix.

  1. Fonseca-Reyes S et al. Differences and effects of medium and large adult cuffs on blood pressure readings in individuals with muscular arms. Blood Press Monit. 2009 Aug;14(4):166-71.