By Renea Dennison, Contributor
Your blood cells provide oxygen and nutrition while removing waste. Those same blood cells rush through a complex structure made up of veins and arteries known as the circulatory system. Your circulatory system provides every organ in your body, including the heart which keeps it moving, life.
You might think as long as the blood is flowing without obstruction everything should be fine and you are healthy. However, there is another important factor to consider. How much force, or pressure, is the moving blood placing on the walls of the arteries as it goes through? This is an important question. High blood pressure (HBP) damages organs and can cause stroke, kidney failure, and heart attacks. Unfortunately, you cannot feel this pressure. Usually, all seems ordinary whether your blood pressure (BP) is high or normal. That is why HBP, or hypertension, is known as the ‘silent killer’.
When you go to the doctor someone takes your BP. It doesn’t matter what your symptoms, if you are age 3 and older and go to the doctor’s they will take it. They do so at every opportunity because using the cuff and measuring is the only way to know if you have developed HBP.
While at the doctor’s, you may wonder what your medical professional is doing when they pump air into the cuff and then listen through a stethoscope tucked under the cuff. They pump enough air to provide more pressure than your systolic (top) number and then wait for the whooshing sound to get your top number. When they cannot hear the pressure any more, they have the diastolic (bottom) number. So for example, they will say you have 120 (top) over 80 (bottom) also written as 120/80.
Did that sound like gibberish to you? (It used to sound like it to me.) Let me explain. The systolic, or top number represents the pressure on your artery walls when your heart is beating. That is, when your heart is squeezing blood forcefully through your body. It is measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg). I don’t know why, except that is how they first figured it out and they are still doing it the same way today. Anyway, this is the number that is given most attention. I remember it by thinking of the S in systolic. To me it means stress or strain as in the pressure the squeezing heart puts on the walls of your arteries. People with good BP always have a systolic number under 120.
We call lower number the diastolic number. It is based on the pressure in your arty walls when your heart is not beating. That is, when it is resting, filling with blood and taking in oxygen. I remember this number by thinking of the D in diastolic and relating it to the word downtime. Don’t get me wrong, you can still be diagnosed with HBP even if your systolic number is under 120 if your diastolic number is high enough. It is just not very common. A normal healthy person will have a diastolic number under 80.
Next week we will talk a little more about the numbers and what it means to have HPB. In the meantime, eat right, exercise, and keep a happy attitude.
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