This is a topic that has become lost to more ‘exciting’ news over the years yet…
IT SHOULD STILL BE PRIDE OF PLACE
Because it kills so many people, and it kills people indirectly.
So what is “high blood pressure”
It’s as the name suggests, but compared to what? This is where so many go wrong.
Quite simply, you have a heart (you do, really!) and its role is to provide every single cell in your body with oxygen and nutrients and remove waste products (eg carbon dioxide). It’s a closed-loop system, meaning if the pressure is higher anywhere it’s high everywhere.
Let’s think about what this means in practical terms. If the pressure is too low, your body won’t get enough oxygen and nutrients.
If it’s too high, something might burst. However, it’s rare for these extremes (although they do happen).
The usual method we think about measuring blood pressure is as we’ve had at some point with a blood pressure cuff and it gives us some numbers.
Usually, we get 3 numbers
The systolic number – this is how high the pressure is when the heart is pumping.
The diastolic number – this is how high the pressure is when the heart is relaxed between pumping.
And usually, our pulse, how frequently our heart is pumping.
Note – our blood pressure even when our heart is relaxed between pumping is not zero.
An example might be:
115/70 mmHg pulse 58 (that’s mine right now)
We can also work out the pressure gradient; the difference between the higher pressure and the lower pressure; this is important too. In my instance here it’s 115-70 = 45 mmHg.
mmHg refers to how many millimetres of mercury (chemical element symbol Hg) the blood pressure would push a fixed amount of mercury (liquid metal) vertically. It’s a bit old school, but it’s still used in medicine, meteorology, aviation and a bunch of other scientific fields…
Anyway, back to the point here
Let’s think about what happens if your blood pressure is higher than your body is designed for… remember I said it’s a closed loop and it is to nourish every cell.
That means higher pressure in your brain, heart, liver, kidneys, lungs, hands, feet, and every single blood vessel too.
In the very short term, for example, if you’ve just walked up a bunch of stairs it should increase to supply additional oxygen and that’s good, but what about the effects long term?
Long term is the ticking time bomb
To be clear – this is my definition of high blood pressure. Higher than 120/80. You’ll find different definitions and I don’t really care – when it’s higher than this, that’s when you find problems.
Blood pressure in Western countries also tends to increase with age significantly. Why? Increase in body fat, increase in arterial plaque (imagine having to pump blood through a rough tube rather than a smooth tube) and a few other factors, namely management of stress. All lifestyle-related, that we do not often see in developing countries until they start to live like us…
We’ll come onto solutions soon… (spoiler – one is to pay me and I’ll help you get it sorted – that’s a simple side effect-free solution)
So let’s start with the brain…
Ok, so your brain is provided with blood by some super cool arteries called the circle of Willis. They’re pretty big and can handle a lot of pressure, but as they branch off into smaller arteries in your brain then they can’t handle so much pressure.
Guess what happens if it’s too high for too long?
Maybe one will pop, and you’ll have a stroke… Doesn’t sound good does it? And here’s the thing, if you survive that, it’s likely you’ll suffer some quality of life loss and likely need medication for the rest of your life (usually blood thinners).
What about if you’ve got some plaque built up on the big arteries and that high pressure causes some to break off and cause a blockage in a smaller artery in the brain .. now you’ve got an ischaemic stroke. None of this is good.
But it’s not only a stroke that high blood pressure can cause in the brain, it’s headaches, increased risk of dementia, cognitive decline, macular degeneration, the list goes on. There are no positives here.
Ok, what about the heart…
I’ll keep this one simple – the key bits are as follows:
The heart has 4 chambers, two at the top, two at the bottom.
The top ones are called atria, and those are the collecting chambers for blood.
The bottom ones are called ventricles and these are the pumping chambers.
What do you think will happen if they have higher pressure blood going through them over time?
The heart will enlarge, valves can start to leak, and you are at a higher risk of having a heart attack than someone who has lower blood pressure. Again, no positive side effects. And this is before you consider that the heart itself needs to be supplied with blood which is does via the coronary arteries. These are tiny and a lot of pressure through these, it’s a matter of time…