Explanation of Blood Pressure
Before I go any further, I want to give an explanation of blood pressure and why it’s so important. Blood pressure is a measurement of the amount of pressure exerted on the inside of arteries. This pressure is generated during the contraction and relaxation of the ventricles (the left and right main chambers of the heart).
An Elegant Pump
The heart is actually an elegant pump and its pumping action moves our blood around our body, providing energy and oxygen. Our heart is pumping 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for our lifetime. It is an amazing biological organ which doesn’t need a service or spare parts fitted during it’s lifetime, that’s of course, if it stays healthy for the duration of our lives. A man made mechanical pump would surely break down over the course of so many years.
If there’s any restriction within our arteries, our heart has to work extra hard to keep the blood flowing around our bodies efficiently. This extra burden that the heart and arteries have to endure is not desirable and can lead to serious health issues such as heart disease and stroke.
What is Systolic Pressure?
Blood pressure is measured using a sphygmomanometer, which is a gauge that records two numbers to give our blood pressure reading, for example 130/85. The first number or top number, is the ‘systolic’ pressure which measures the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats (when the heart muscle contracts.) This contraction phase lasts for 0.3 seconds. This is a more modern wrist type monitor. The cuff monitors which are used on the upper arm, are generally the more accurate.
What is Diastolic Pressure?
The second number or bottom number measures the pressure in the arteries between heartbeats or when the heart muscle is between beats and filling with blood. This relaxation phase lasts for a longer 0.7 seconds. The pressure measurements of these two phases is shown in mm of mercury ie. 130/85mmHg (Hg is the name for mercury on the periodic table).
What is a normal blood pressure reading?
Anything between 90-140 systolic and 60-90 diastolic is classed as a healthy blood pressure. Over 140 systolic and over 90 diastolic is classed as high blood pressure or hypertension. Below 90 systolic and 60 diastolic is given as low blood pressure or hypotension.
Prehypertensive blood pressure?
Prehypertensive blood pressure seems to be a bone of contention with some doctors who consider the top end of normal levels to be prehypertensive ie. from 120 – 140 systolic and 80-90 diastolic. This means that a vast number of the population fall into this new modern category of prehypertensive. This is quite scary for many patients, who only hear the hypertension bit and start worrying about their blood pressure. Telling a patient they are prehypertensive is unnecessary IMHO. It could lead to needless worry and anxiety which will only have a negative affect on their health and what does worry and stress cause? An elevation in blood pressure!
Is this modern prehypertensive category really necessary?
Is this new category of blood pressure levels necessary? It is obvious that high blood pressure is to be avoided but these new values from normal blood pressure are effectively bringing down acceptable blood pressure level which puts a large majority of the population disposed to high blood pressure. Because of this, some patients may be unnecessarily put onto drugs.
What about the elderly?
Our elderly population may naturally have slightly elevated blood pressure to counteract more rigidity within their arteries due to their age. Lowering their blood pressure could lead to dizziness and falls that could cause hip and other bone fractures, which are often fatal for the elderly patient. Many elderly people live on their own and it’s common to find a neighbour or relative lying on the floor or in the garden after a fall. Dizziness is a common complaint of the elderly and low blood pressure can often be the cause.
In my experience…
My own mother broke her hip at age 93 from falling due to a dizzy spell and it was the end for her. Because she would not live with anyone, she agreed for us to fit a camera in her house so we could see she was safe each day. On one occasion after checking she was OK at lunchtime, we looked again at about 6 o’clock in the evening, only to find she was lying on the floor with the heater next to her head. She was obviously unable to move her body but was struggling to move her head away from the fire. We called an ambulance immediately and she was diagnosed with a broken hip by the ambulance crew. Her face was red from the fire. If we had not checked on her, she would have been there all night and probably died alone, in pain on the floor of her lounge. She later died in hospital of aspirated pneumonia, which is a very common demise for an elderly person in hospital after surgery.
In part 2 of this post, we will go through some of health risks of high blood pressure and get to the title of this post ie. Blood Pressure and Magnesium Deficiency.