Check your blood pres­sure, save your life


What is blood pres­sure, why is it im­por­tant and what can you do about it? Maybe we should re­name it to heart pres­sure be­cause when the cuff tight­ens around your arm it is re­ally mea­sur­ing the pres­sure in your heart. Blood pres­sure is made up of two num­bers, the sys­tolic and the di­as­tolic pres­sure – fancy names that ba­si­cally mean the heart’s max­i­mum pres­sure and rest­ing pres­sure.

When the heart con­tracts it sends a pres­sure wave through your ar­ter­ies as the blood is pushed to the ex­trem­i­ties. The blood pres­sure cuff is tra­di­tion­ally pumped up tight so it squeezes the artery closed so no blood can get into the arm. When the pres­sure of the heart over­comes the pres­sure in the cuff we record that as the sys­tolic pres­sure as blood starts to flow through the com­pressed artery. Once the artery opens to its full di­am­e­ter, the blood flow be­comes lam­i­nar so it makes no noise and we record that as the di­as­tolic or rest­ing pres­sure of the heart as the cham­bers fill with blood.

If the pres­sure in the heart and the ar­ter­ies be­comes too high or too low it can cause prob­lems, some of them fa­tal. Blood ves­sels can burst un­der high pres­sure and de­pend­ing on their lo­ca­tion the lack of blood to what­ever is down­stream, such as the brain, can be prob­lem­atic.

If the pres­sure is too low, such as un­der 90/60, it can cause light head­ed­ness, faint­ing and col­lapse. An ideal blood pres­sure is thought to be some­where around 115/80. El­e­vated pres­sures over 140mmhg (mil­lime­tres of mer­cury) sys­tolic can cause heart fail­ure as the pump pushes against el­e­vated pres­sure in the sys­tem. So, it’s im­por­tant to know the pres­sure in your heart and the pipes, and if it’s ab­nor­mal to do some­thing about it.

Blood pres­sure is es­sen­tially gen­er­ated by three fac­tors. How much fluid is in the sys­tem; the di­am­e­ter of the pipes; and the rate that the heart pump con­tracts. Stress causes an in­crease in heart rate and con­stric­tion of the ar­ter­ies which pushes blood pres­sure up.

New wear­able de­vices such as wrist bands can also mea­sure blood pres­sure, mak­ing it eas­ier to record and track it across a va­ri­ety of sit­u­a­tions.

As our blood does not like to be too salty, when we add salt to our diet, we must re­tain wa­ter to main­tain the same con­cen­tra­tion of salt in our blood. When we are young we can com­pen­sate for this by our blood ves­sels ex­pand­ing, as we age the pipes har­den and cal­cify so blood pres­sure goes up as frozen pe­riph­eral re­sis­tance can’t let the pres­sure off.

There are many other causes of el­e­vated or low blood pres­sure – obe­sity, tu­mours and hor­monal prob­lems, to name a few. 123RF Ab­nor­mal blood pres­sure can be a warn­ing light. So, get it mea­sured, if it’s ab­nor­mal make the nec­es­sary life­style changes and, if re­quired, take the nec­es­sary pills.

Ig­nor­ing your blood pres­sure can im­pact your well­be­ing, so get on top of it be­fore it gets on top of you. ● Dr Tom Mul­hol­land is an Emer­gency De­part­ment doc­tor and GP with more than 25 years’ ex­pe­ri­ence in New Zealand. He’s tack­ling health mis­sions around the world.

Maybe we should re­name blood pres­sure to heart pres­sure be­cause when the cuff tight­ens around your arm it is re­ally mea­sur­ing the pres­sure in your heart.

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