Monday, February 28, 2011

Blood Pressure

To most people, heart rate doesn’t seem like a terribly important number. That’s OK, because a far more important measure of your heart’s health is blood pressure—in fact, it’s the most reliable predictor of heart trouble to come.

Blood pressure is the force your blood exerts on the walls of your arteries. Many factors influence blood pressure, including your heart rate, the amount of blood in your body, and how thick that blood is. The most significant thing your blood pressure measures is the condition of your arteries. As they age, your arteries stiffen and swell, forcing your heart to pump harder to deliver blood to the far corners of your body. Most people find that their blood pressure creeps up as they grow older. It’s a matter of debate whether this is a natural consequence of an aging body, or the cumulative toll of a modern lifestyle.

Blood pressure can vary in different parts of your body, so doctors generally measure it in the main artery of your upper arm. A blood-pressure reading actually consists of two measurements. The systolic pressure is the force your heart exerts when it pushes blood out. The diastolic pressure is the force between heartbeats.

In the past, the medical community thought that diastolic pressure was the more important of the two, possibly because your blood vessels experience this level of pressure between heartbeats, which is most of the time. But recent research shows that systolic pressure is the best predictor of future ills. (It’s also possible that the difference between the two figures is even more significant, which means that a person with a high systolic pressure and a low diastolic pressure is at the greatest health risk of all.)

The following table outlines commonly observed blood-pressure ranges and what they mean. Although the best way to measure your blood pressure is with the high-quality equipment in a doctor’s office, you can perform an informal check with a free, automated machine at many drugstores. Slightly low blood pressure puts you at greater risk of fainting and dizziness, but it doesn’t raise any health concerns. (However, extremely low blood pressure—a.k.a. hypotension—may be the sign of an underlying disease.)

High blood pressure isn’t so forgiving. Called hypertension, it takes a slow and steady toll on your body, scarring your arteries and organs like a highpressure washing hose that’s set too high. Hypertension is insidious because it has no obvious symptoms until it’s far advanced, and by then it may already have damaged your heart, eyes, kidneys, and even your brain.

Now that you know the importance of tracking your blood pressure, the next question is this: What can you do if it’s outside the norm? If you already have hypertension, several lifestyle changes may help reduce your blood pressure. However, these steps are unlikely to reverse the condition completely. That means that once you make all the changes you can, you need to take careful blood-pressure readings and work with your doctor to choose the most suitable pressure-lowering drugs. And be warned: The cardiac unit of many a hospital is full of self medicating patients who tossed their drugs after adopting a “miracle diet” or a serious workout regimen, only to suffer devastating heart problems. A healthy lifestyle is an admirable thing, but it’s not likely to repair weakened arteries or roll back time.

If you’re in the warning zone, with a systolic blood pressure that’s nudged past 120 but still sits under the 140 mark, your prospects are better. By making the right changes, you can delay the onset of hypertension— perhaps indefinitely. Even if you eventually cross the dreaded threshold of hypertension, your hard work can keep you off blood-pressure medication for years before that point.

Source of Information :  Oreilly - Your Body Missing Manual

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