If you lined up all the blood vessels in your body, they would be 59,000 miles long. Every day they carry the equivalent of 7,500 litres (1981 gallons) of blood! This volume is the same four or five litres recycled repeatedly, and they exert a great force on the walls of your blood vessels which we call blood pressure (BP).
Blood quality and availability are crucial for your life in the short and long term. However, this constant process of blood circulation is unseen, so it is important to take an active approach to learning how blood pressure works and how varying levels affect your health.
Blood pressure is a mirror of your health
Blood pressure can provide insight into your overall health, so it’s crucial to monitor it to increase your health span. Knowing the factors that influence BP can help you identify areas of improvement and ensure you are taking steps to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
High blood pressure means your heart has to work harder to pump blood through your arteries. This extra work can lead to a variety of health problems, including heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, memory loss, and erectile dysfunction.
What unit is BP measured in?
People measure blood pressure in “mm Hg”. This stands for millimeters of mercury, a unit of pressure measurement. It is also the most used unit for measuring air pressure and gives a consistent and reliable measure of the force exerted on our arterial walls.
Systolic and Diastolic blood pressure
Blood pressure is recorded as two numbers:
Systolic pressure is the top number and measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats.
Diastolic pressure is the bottom number and measures the pressure in your arteries between heartbeats. It means pressure when your heart takes a very short break to rest.
Five categories of blood pressure
Most people are familiar with the basic BP numbers: 120 over 80, for example. However, did you know that there are actually five different ranges of blood pressure, as recognized by the American Heart Association?
High blood pressure
Prehypertension and hypertension refer to persistent high blood pressure, a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
Uncontrolled hypertension can lead to stroke, heart attack, kidney failure, and other health complications. If you think you might have prehypertension or hypertension, you should see a doctor immediately; the sooner you identify it, the easier it will be to treat. Several lifestyle changes can be implemented to help manage prehypertension or hypertension, such as reducing salt intake, maintaining a healthy diet consisting of low-fat foods, and exercising regularly. Additionally, certain medications may be prescribed to reduce high BP levels.
A hypertensive crisis is a medical emergency requiring immediate medical attention. It occurs when blood pressure rises to dangerously high levels, usually 180/120 or higher.
Symptoms of a hypertensive crisis can include a severe headache, chest pain, confusion, vision changes, nausea, and vomiting. If you experience any of these symptoms and your BP is above 180/120, you should seek medical attention right away.
A hypertensive crisis can be caused by an underlying condition like kidney disease or endocrine disorder, but it may also occur with no known cause. Long-term treatment typically includes medications to lower BP and lifestyle changes such as reducing stress, eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and not smoking.
Low blood pressure
BP lower than 90 mm Hg over 60 mm Hg is considered low. This condition is called hypotension, and it can also cause health problems.
People with low blood pressure may feel dizzy, lightheaded, and even have fainting spells. They are also at higher risk for developing dehydration as well as falls, heart attack, and stroke due to decreased blood flow to vital organs.
If you experience any of these symptoms, it is important to seek medical advice and treatment. Left untreated, low BP can lead to serious complications, including organ damage and even death.
What affects your blood pressure?
Many factors can affect an individual’s BP. Some things are out of your control, like age and family history, while others include lifestyle choices.
Food choices: Diet high in salt can lead to an increase in blood pressure, while a healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables can help to reduce blood pressure levels.
Physical activity or lack of it: Exercise can help to normalize blood pressure, while a sedentary lifestyle can increase it.
Certain medications, such as painkillers and birth control pills, can also affect blood pressure.
Age is another factor that can influence blood pressure; typically, the older someone gets, the higher their blood pressure tends to be.
Gender can also play a role, with women typically having lower blood pressure than men
Stress levels can also have an effect, as increased stress can cause a temporary spike in blood pressure.
Certain medical conditions, such as diabetes and kidney disease, can affect an individual’s blood pressure.
Why you should care about your blood pressure
By monitoring BP and taking the right steps, individuals can reduce their risk of developing serious health issues associated with high blood pressure, such as stroke and heart attack. Additionally, knowing how to manage the factors that affect blood pressure can help people lead healthier lifestyles by promoting better overall health.
Five steps to measuring blood pressure
1. Purchase a home monitor. They are typically inexpensive and worthwhile in the long term.
2. Find a comfortable and quiet location to sit and rest for a few minutes.
3. Sit in a chair with your feet flat on the floor and your arm supported at heart level. Do not cross your legs or arms while taking your blood pressure.
4. Place the cuff on your arm and ensure that it is snug but not uncomfortably tight.
5. Follow the instructions provided with your blood pressure monitor to begin taking your blood pressure reading. This typically involves pressing a button to start the measurement and then waiting for the reading to be displayed on the monitor. It is crucial to remain still and quiet while the reading is being taken.
Hungry for knowledge? Here is more:
If you want a deep dive into how blood pressure works, watch this short and informative video from Mike Todorovic (PhD), a Senior Lecturer and Medical Researcher at Griffith University in Australia.
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