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Blood Pressure Overview!
There are many factors to good health and your blood pressure is one of them. In the simplest terms, it is the force or pressure your blood exerts on the walls of your arteries and veins. Without this pressure, your blood would not circulate around 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 overall well-being. For as your blood flows, so it flows to you!
Mechanics of blood pressure
It all starts with your heart, which pumps blood from your heart to the arteries of your body. These large arteries narrow into smaller vessels called arterioles. These arterioles then narrow into even smaller vessels called capillaries. At the capillary level, your blood exchanges the oxygen and nutrients it carries in exchange for cellular waste products such as carbon dioxide and toxins. This blood then flows from the capillaries into your veins and returns your blood to the heart.
As your heart pumps blood through your lungs, carbon dioxide is exchanged for oxygen. And when your blood flows through the liver, the liver removes most of your toxins.
Given this closed pumping system, two main factors can contribute to changes in blood pressure:
o Strength of heart contraction – Your heart acts as a pump. When your heart contracts, it pushes blood into its various chambers or into the large arteries that leave the heart. The force of your heart’s contraction will determine the force of the blood as it leaves the heart.
o Resistance to blood flow – As your blood leaves the heart, it will encounter resistance. This resistance may be due to arteries that have aged and lost some of their elasticity. Or resistance may come from plaque and other fatty deposits that change the internal shape of arteries and arterioles. Certain nerve impulses can trigger the endothelial cells that line the inside of blood vessels to release nitric oxide.
Nitric oxide is the main signaling molecule of the cardiovascular system and determines how much a blood vessel will dilate (become larger) or constrict (become smaller). Finally, resistance will occur at the capillary level. If capillary beds are restricted, resistance to blood flow increases. If the capillaries are open and flowing, the resistance to blood flow will be as low as possible.
As you can see, there are several factors that affect your blood pressure. Although cardiac strength is one of them, most of the factors that affect this area occur when your blood leaves the heart. Therefore, in 90 to 95 percent of cases of high blood pressure, the cause is unknown. The remaining 5 to 10 percent of cases usually have a known cause, which could be:
o kidney abnormality.
o A structural abnormality of the aorta, which is the large artery that leaves the heart.
o Narrowing of certain arteries due to a certain disease.
Most of these problems can be fixed. The challenge is to address the remaining 90 to 95 percent of these cases.
When you go to the doctor’s office or hospital, one of the first things the nurse or healthcare provider does is take your blood pressure. A large cuff wraps around the upper part of your arm. They then manually pump air pressure into the cuff, causing it to expand, putting pressure on your arm. Eventually, the pressure in the cuff is greater than the pressure in the artery in your arm. This then stops the blood flow.
The next step is for the healthcare professional to place the bell of their stethoscope on the artery in your arm and begin to slowly release the pressure in the cuff. They listen to two sounds. When your blood pressure is higher than the pressure in the cuff, your blood will pulse again through the artery in your arm. It makes a sound, and that first sound is called your systolic pressure. When the sound finally goes away, that last sound is called your diastolic pressure.
Your blood pressure is recorded as two numbers, such as 110/70 mm Hg (millimeters of mercury). Systolic pressure is the first and larger number. It represents the pressure your heart creates when it contracts to pump blood from your heart to your body.
The second and smaller number is the diastolic pressure. This is the pressure of the blood in your arteries as your heart refills, just before it contracts again. Diastolic pressure is what allows your blood to continue circulating around your body.
The medical community has established a normal range for these systolic and diastolic pressures. Anything above this normal range is considered “prehypertension” or “hypertension.” The range is as follows:
o normal blood pressure – anything below 120/80 mm Hg
o Prehypertension – if your systolic pressure is 120 to 139 or diastolic pressure is 80 to 89 or both
o High blood pressure (hypertension) – if your systolic pressure is 140 or higher and/or diastolic pressure is 90 or higher
An estimated 72 million Americans have high blood pressure, meaning 1 in 3 adults have this “silent killer!” It is called that because there are usually no symptoms. This means that most of those who have high blood pressure don’t even know it.
Now you might think what harm could be done to your body if there are no symptoms. Here’s a list of the potential damage it can cause if you don’t check it:
o Increased risk of heart disease
o Increased risk of heart attack
o Increased risk of congestive heart failure
o First cause of stroke
o Increased risk of kidney failure
o Increased risk of peripheral artery disease
o Increased risk of aortic aneurysms
o Increased chance of eye damage with vision loss
That’s quite a list of potentially life-threatening health problems. You need to keep an eye on 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 your systolic and diastolic readings taken by a qualified person. 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, let’s both grow old young!
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