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Blood Pressure Overview!
There are many factors to good health and your blood pressure is one of them. Simply put, it’s the pressure, or pressure, of your blood against the walls of your arteries and veins. Without this pressure your blood would not circulate throughout your body carrying oxygen and nutrients to your cells while removing carbon dioxide and cellular waste from those same cells. Understanding this process will help you understand why this area of health is so important to your health. Because as your blood flows, you let it flow!
Blood pressure mechanics
It all starts with your heart which pumps blood from the heart into the arteries of your body. These large arteries narrow into smaller vessels called arterioles. These arteries then narrow into very small vessels called capillaries. It is at the capillary level that your blood exchanges oxygen and nutrients with which it is carried in exchange for cell waste products such as carbon dioxide and toxins. This blood then flows through the capillaries into your veins and back to your heart.
As your heart pumps blood through your lungs, carbon dioxide is exchanged for oxygen. And, as your blood is pumped through the liver, the liver removes most of your toxins.
Given this closed pumping system, there are two main factors that can cause changes in your blood pressure:
o Force of heart contraction – Your heart works as a pump. As your heart contracts, it squeezes blood into its various chambers, or large arteries that leave the heart. The force of your heart’s contractions will determine the force of the blood as it exits the heart.
o Resistance to blood flow – Once your blood leaves the heart, it will meet the resistance. This resistance may come from arteries that are aging and have some loss of elasticity. Or, resistance can come from plaque and other fatty deposits that change the shape of the arteries and arterioles inside. Certain nerve impulses can trigger endothelial cells to release nitric oxide in the lining of your blood vessels.
Nitric oxide is a key signaling molecule in the cardiovascular system and determines how much a blood vessel will dilate (enlarge) or constrict (shrink). Finally, there will be resistance at the capillary level. If the capillary bed is restricted, resistance to blood flow will increase. If the capillary beds are open and flowing, resistance to blood flow will be reduced.
As you can see there are many factors that affect your blood pressure. Although cardiac strength is one of them, most of the factors that affect this area occur after your blood leaves the heart. This is why 90 to 95 percent of high blood pressure cases have no known cause. The remaining 5 to 10 percent of cases usually have a known cause which may be:
o Renal abnormalities.
o Structural abnormalities of the aorta which is the large artery leading out of the heart.
o Narrowing of certain blood vessels due to certain diseases.
Most of these problems can be corrected. The remaining 90 to 95 percent of these cases are a challenge to handle.
When you go to the doctor’s office or hospital, one of the first things the nurse or health professional will do is take your blood pressure. They wrap a large cuff around your upper arm. Then they manually pump air pressure into the cuff to expand it which puts pressure on your arm. Eventually the pressure in the cuff is greater than the pressure in the artery in your arm. This stops the blood flow.
The next step is for the healthcare professional to place the bell of their stethoscope over the artery in your arm and slowly begin to release the pressure in the cuff. They are listening to two voices. When your blood pressure is higher than the pressure in the cuff, your blood is repulsed through the artery in your arm. This causes a sound and this first sound is called the systolic pressure. When the sound finally goes away, this final sound is called your diastolic pressure.
Your blood pressure is recorded as two numbers, 110/70 mm Hg (millimeters of mercury). Systolic pressure is the first and largest number. It represents the pressure generated by our heart when it contracts to pump blood out of our body.
The second and smaller number is the diastolic pressure. This is the pressure of the blood in your arteries when your heart is refilling itself before it contracts again. This is the diastolic pressure that enables your blood to circulate through your body.
The medical community has determined a normal range for both systolic and diastolic pressures. Anything above this normal range is considered either “prehypertension” or “hypertension”. The category is as follows:
o Normal blood pressure – anything below 120/80 mm Hg
o Prehypertension – if your systolic pressure is 120 to 139 or your diastolic pressure is 80 to 89 or both
o High blood pressure (hypertension) – if your systolic pressure is 140 or higher and/or your diastolic pressure is 90 or higher.
It is estimated that 72 million Americans have high blood pressure, meaning 1 in 3 adults have this “silent killer!” It is called so because there are usually no symptoms. This means that people who have high blood pressure don’t even know it.
Now you may wonder what damage can be done to your body if there are no symptoms. Here is a list of possible damages if left unchecked:
o Increased risk of heart disease
o Increased risk of heart disease
o Increased risk of congestive heart failure
o The number one cause of paralysis
o Increased risk of kidney failure
o Increased risk of peripheral artery disease
o Increased risk for aortic aneurysm
o Risk of eye damage increases with loss of vision
This is a list of potentially life-threatening health problems. You need to watch your blood pressure and find ways to reduce your risk of this silent killer.
If you don’t know what your blood pressure numbers are, make it a priority to visit your pharmacist, local clinic or doctor’s office within the next seven days and have a qualified person take your systolic and diastolic readings. This is your first step in addressing this potential killer, especially if you want to slow down the aging process and improve your overall health and well-being. Until next time, may we both grow young!
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