High Blood Pressure
What does 'Blood Pressure' mean?
Blood pressure is a mysterious word for lay people. But there is no mystery about it. The facts about it are very simple. Blood pressure is merely the pressure that the blood exerts on the blood vessels, while circulating.
Blood pressure is essential for:
( 1) the return of the blood to the heart, after making its way through more than 60,000 miles long blood vessels of our body,
( 2) the between the capillaries,
( 3) the filtering (and therefore purification) of blood in the kidneys and the lungs.
When the rhythmically beating heart contracts, it forcefully drives the blood into the arteries. The pressure at such a time is high and is termed 'systolic blood pressure'. When the heart relaxes, the pressure is comparatively low and is termed 'diastolic blood pressure'. The instrument used to measure blood pressure is called a ‘sphygmomanometer’.
A systolic blood pressure of 120mm Hg and a diastolic blood pressure of 80mm Hg are considered 'normal'. These pressures are denoted as 120/80.
Blood pressure does not remain the same throughout the day. It undergoes slight variations (termed diurnal variations). The pressure is the least during the early hours of the day, when a person is in a deep sleep. At around 9.00-9.30 a.m., the pressure is usually the maximum. Besides, the blood pressure is temporarily raised (many a time markedly so) by physical labour, mental strain, acute pain or fear. H is essential that before measuring the blood pressure, the person should be made to rest for a while.
Blood pressure is a result of the interaction between the cardiac output and the peripheral resistance.
It can be easily understood that cardiac output and peripheral resistance are inversely proportional, i.e., if one increases, the other correspondingly decreases to maintain the blood pressure at normal values.
High blood pressure is of two types:
(1) Essential (simple) and
Secondary high blood pressure is caused by some other disease or disorder in the body.
More than 90 per cent of patients suffer from 'essential hypertension.' How essential hypertension develops, i.e., what changes or mechanisms in the body are responsible for the rise in the pressure, is not clearly known. On the basis of research and experiments, scientists point towards certain mechanisms. However, these are very complicated and need not be dwelt on here.
As per the extensive surveys carried out in a number of countries, almost 25 per cent of the population suffers from high blood pressure; and the incidence is rapidly rising.
Causes of high blood pressure
It has been mentioned earlier that high blood pressure results from an imbalance between the cardiac output and the peripheral resistance. The following factors may, individually or in conjunction lead to such an imbalance:
( 1 ) Heredity: Most experts believe that heredity does play a role in causing high blood pressure. A few researchers believe it is not heredity but environmental factors which cause high blood pressure. Children imitate the dietary habits and life style of their elders. Consequently they, too, suffer from disorders which their parents are afflicted with.
In what way and to what extent do hereditary factors act is still not clear. As for diabetes, it can be said for high blood pressure, too, that in the development of high blood pressure, heredity loads the cannon and environmental factors pull the trigger. In short, if exciting environmental factors are not at play, heredity can have no influence,
( 2 ) Mental tension and approach: All researchers accept the role of mental tension and negative thinking in the development of high blood pressure. Mental tension leads to an excessive secretion of catecholamine’s (adrenaline and noradrenalin) inside the body. These secretions undesirably stimulate the catecholaminergic nerve endings in the brain-stem to cause a rise in the blood pressure.
( 3) Excessive intake of salt: That an excessive intake of common salt (sodium chloride) raises the blood pressure is an indisputable fact.
Extensive studies have shown that in all those countries where the average salt intake is high, the incidence of high blood pressure, too, is high. Even in a single country, the incidence of high blood pressure is higher in coastal places than in the interior.
( 4 ) Obesity (excessive weight) : The relationship between obesity and high blood pressure is well-known. High blood pressure is extremely common in fat persons.
( 5 ) Sedentary life: The incidence of high blood pressure is much higher in sedentary persons than in labourers. In a study covering 1000 athletes, it was found that they had a systolic blood pressure of only 99 mm Hg on an average.
( 6) Smoking: The incidence of high blood pressure has been found to be higher in smokers. Smokers more often fall victims to atherosclerosis, heart attack and cerebral hemorrhage.
Symptoms and diagnosis of high blood pressure
It is commonly believed that high blood pressure is a malady of old age and mainly affects male. This belief is, however, not supported by facts. The incidence of high blood pressure has been found to be as high as 10 to 11 percent in children and youths. It rises to 20-25 percent in the middle-aged. The possibility of a person above 50, developing high blood pressure afresh, is slight indeed.
The belief that women less commonly suffer from high blood pressure is only partially true. Though it is true that the incidence of high blood pressure in menstruating women is lower than that in men, after menopause it increases to equal that in men. In fact, a survey indicates that the incidence of high blood pressure in women older than 64 years is actually higher than that in men.
The belief that high blood pressure afflicts only the affluent class is also not true. This disease does not differentiate between the rich and poor, high society and low society.
Treatment of high blood pressure
If the blood pressure is not very high, it can usually be controlled by non-medical treatment.
Even those patients, for whom medicines are necessary, cannot do away with other non-medical measures. Such non-medical measures work to keep the dosage of medicines to the minimum. This obviously minimizes the risk of side effects. This fact is especially important for persons with high blood pressure because treatment for this disorder is to be continued throughout the life.
Non-medical modes of treatment
( 1) Change your outlook and the life-style: High blood pressure is a result of fast and competitive modern life. If you possess a tense personality, straight away implement efforts to change your mental attitude. This may be difficult, but it is not impossible.
( 2) Restrict salt-intake: The connection between high blood pressure and high salt-intake is well known. Therefore, in this disorder, drastically cutting down the salt-intake is inevitable. We usually consume 10-15 grams of salt every day.
( 3) Reduce your weight if you are obese: High blood pressure and obesity are intimately related. Many a time, blood pressure drops merely by reducing weight. Determine the ideal body-weight for your height and frame from the tables given at the end of this book. If your weight is more than ideal, immediately start efforts to reduce it.
Prevention of high blood pressure:
Prevention is not only better than cure but much cheaper too. This is especially true for high blood pressure because once established, it is a life time disease.
High blood pressure and atherosclerosis do not develop overnight. They progress very gradually. Their seeds are sown right in the childhood. Therefore, measures, to prevent them should be initiated in the childhood.
Bad habits like smoking and drinking are mostly passed on to children by their parents. If you wish that your children should not develop such habits, it is imperative that you, too, must not smoke or drink. If you do not take proper care of your children during their growing years, you will be responsible for the dreadful diseases they suffer from later in life.