The ABC’s of High Blood Pressure

There is no one level of blood pressure that is normal for everybody.

Many people with so-called high blood pressure feel no ill effects from the condition.

Low blood pressure is not a disease. In fact, it is frequently identified with longer life.

Persistent high blood pressure is a serious condition because it may have injurious effects on the heart, brain, and kidneys.

The cause of high blood pressure is not known.

Newly discovered drugs have made high blood pressure eminently responsive to treatment, but there is no cure.

Something to talk about.

Just as ulcers are sometimes considered the badge of belonging to the hectic advertising culture on New York’s Madison Avenue, high blood pressure has become an everyday subject of conversation among many persons in their middle and later years, almost as if it were a sure sign its victim has arrived at the last stage of life. This is nonsense. High blood pressure occurs more frequently nowadays simply because more people are living longer lives and there are more older people in the general population.

Everyone has blood pressure.

Doctors measure blood pressure with an instrument called the sphygmomanometer, part of which is that familiar inflatable rubber cuff that is wrapped around your arm during a physical examination. As long as there is blood coursing through your body you will have some blood pressure, high, low, or normal.

We find your blood pressure by tightly inflating the rubber cuff around your arm, almost like a tourniquet, so that no blood can flow. Then we place a stethoscope over one of the large arteries inside your elbow and listen while the pressure in the cuff is slowly released. As the blood returns, we can hear a thumping sound. As soon as this sound appears, we look at the level of mercury in the machine and read what is known as your systolic blood pressure.

As more air is released from the cuff, the column of mercury drops again and we listen through the stethoscope until we no longer hear the thumping noise of each heart beat. At this point, we take another reading of the mercury level and obtain your diastolic pressure.

You often see a blood pressure reading which looks something like this: 120/60. This is expressed as “120 over 60.” The 120 is the systolic pressure, and 60 is the diastolic.

The normal systolic blood pressure, taken while you are at rest, is considered to be between 100 and 140; the normal diastolic reading at rest is supposed to be between 50 and 90.

But frequently there are fluctuations in blood pressure. Physical exercise and emotional excitement can raise both the systolic and diastolic readings. Many people, in fact, become so nervous just because their pressures are being taken that their readings are apt to be higher than normal.

There is an old rule of thumb that normal systolic blood pressure should read as “100 plus the figure of your age.” Thus, if you are forty, your systolic blood pressure would be 140. But we have found that for people over forty, this standard is too generous, although we frequently find a slight rise in blood pressure with advancing years.

Low blood pressure.

A blood pressure reading of 100/50, although seemingly low, can be considered quite normal. Low blood pressure is not a disease nor is it harmful in any way. Indeed, life insurance data show that many people with low blood pressure live long lives. There is never any reason to be concerned about low blood pressure as long as you are feeling well and are normally active. Either forget about low blood pressure or be grateful for it.

Why high blood pressure is serious.

A high blood pressure reading is not always indicative of trouble, but, if your blood pressure is consistently at a high level, doctors consider it a serious condition called hypertension. It requires careful medical attention.
Imagine your heart and blood vessels as a pumping system with pipes. Let’s say the pump and pipes were made to withstand a constant strain of about 50 pounds. If the strain were reduced to 25 pounds, the system could be expected to last more than its normal life expectancy. On the other hand, if the strain were increased to 100 pounds, the pump’s valves would soon begin to leak, the joints of the various pipe sections would start giving way, and before long a new pumping system would be needed.

In cases of consistent high blood pressure, the pumping system of the human body is affected in much the same manner, but, unfortunately, there is no way of replacing it. So you have to make do with what you have, and give it the best possible care, and make the best of it.

The effects of hypertension become evident in various parts of the circulatory system. The essential change is arteriosclerotic development, but the rate and amount of change varies among individuals. Generally, the higher the pressure and the longer it has been present, the greater the degree of arteriosclerosis. But some people are more or less “sensitive” to high blood pressure, so that many people with hypertension as high as 200 systolic show no apparent ill effects, while others with considerably lower pressure may show marked changes in the blood vessels.

The parts of the body most vulnerable to arteriosclerotic change are the heart, brain, and kidneys. The heart is most frequently affected.

The cause of high blood pressure.

Although there have been many explanations, the cause or causes of high blood pressure remain pretty much a mystery. Almost every item of food has been blamed-salt, red meat, coffee, alcohol, even tobacco. But there is still no evidence that any dietary routine will cause or cure high blood pressure.

Some authorities contend that the extreme tensions of modern civilization are the triggers that touch off hypertension. It is known, for instance, that emotional excitement can raise your blood pressure enormously.
One thing is certain. High blood pressure is not confined to any social, economic, racial, religious, or cultural group in the population. It hits people in all walks of life and at all age levels. It is not an “old folks” disease.
What can be done about high blood pressure?

Perhaps because so little is known about the origins of high blood pressure, there is no known regimen of life that can prevent high blood pressure. Of course, the general rules for enlightened living-sleep, balanced diet, exercise, and moderation in all habits are always helpful in warding off serious illness.

Nonetheless, thanks to men like Dr. Robert Wilkins, a former president of the American Heart Association, certain drugs are now available which have proven enormously useful in controlling high blood pressure. Dr. Wilkins has been identified as “the first physician in the Western world to use the ancient Indian snakeroot, rauwolfia, and its derivative, reserpine, in the treatment of high blood pressure.” Because of these drugs, and others since developed, we have every reason to feel optimistic that high blood pressure can be effectively managed to the point where it can be kept at or near normal levels for long periods at a time. This in itself, while not a cure of course, is a major step forward, particularly when we recall that a number of hypertensive patients were once subjected to drastic surgery on the sympathetic nervous system.

The most important routine for the hypertensive patient is adequate sleep. There is simply no such thing as too much sleep for hypertension.

A person with high blood pressure properly treated and cared for can now live a longer, happier, more useful life than ever if he will reorganize his life to conform, willingly and cheerfully, to a few moderate limitations and restrictions on his activities, and will accept the medical edict to get lots of rest and sleep.

As in the case of your heart, forget that there is such a thing as high blood pressure or, for that matter, blood pressure. Don’t be like the man in a case cited by Dr. Wilkins, “… an advertising executive who pushed himself straight into hysteria by buying a blood-pressure machine and measuring his blood pressure after meetings with clients.”

What to Remember About High Blood Pressure

1. The usual sensible program for everyday living is the best antidote against high blood pressure.

2. Do not fear high blood pressure as a common disease of old age. It really is not.

3. High blood pressure can affect anyone and everyone; as in the case of your heart, go about your business routinely and normally. Forget there is such a thing as blood pressure.

4, Don’t try to “cure” high blood pressure with any particular diet. There is no known cure for it.

5. High blood pressure is not always to be feared. Many people have pressures above the so-called normal, but they feel no ill effects and live long lives.

6. When high blood pressure persists for a long time, it may affect your heart, brain, and kidneys; if your doctor should suggest it, be prepared to accept a moderate change in your ways to help manage your particular condition.

7. Don’t be afraid to get all the rest and sleep you can if your blood pressure is high.

8. Be optimistic. New drugs are very effective in the management of high blood pressure.

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