What Is High Blood Pressure?
What is high blood pressure?
We could give the answer to the question, "What is High Blood Pressure?" in a few short statements about systolicand diastolic pressure, but to fully understand high blood pressure we need to start at the beginning.
The heart, constantly beating throughout life, never rests in the sense that other organs, such as the stomach, have resting phases. It's metabolic requirements are exceeded onlyby those of the brain.
- Our heart is an amazing feat of engineering. It is part of the circulatory system of our bodies along with the blood and the blood vessels which included arteries, capillaries and veins.
- The heart is divided into two parts, the right side and the left side. The right sidereceives the blood coming back from the body from which the oxygen has been depleted (blueblood) and pumps it to the lungs. The left side receives the blood which comes back from the lungs and has been oxygenated (red blood).
- It then pumps oxygenated blood to all of the organs and every tissue in the body.
- This pump is located slightly on the left side of our chest and is about the size of our fist.
- It pumps nonstop, day and night, with no conscious action on our part.
- It beats about 100,000 times in one day - that's 35 million times a year!! Times that times your age!!
- It pumps about five quarts a minute. Sit 5 quart jars next to each other for the visual effect and just think about our heart pumping that much in one minute!!
We are lucky that it does the work by itself and since it is out of sight and out of mind we don't even have to worry about it at all. Right?
Wrong. If we ignore this amazing piece of equipment long enough it will eventually clog up and shut down - at the very least it will wear out.
You may wonder why I ask, "What is high blood pressure?" It's becauseheart attacks run rampant in my family. My father and his father, and his two brothers, all died from heart attacks in their early 70s. A number of women had heart attacks also but survived, except for my mother's sister, who was also claimed at an early age. Maybe they didn't know that they should have asked, "What is High Blood Pressure?" My mother had a quadruple by-pass and has always had high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Do you think I need to know about my heart so that I can protect it and even more important - so that I can educate my children, especially my sons, about their hearts and help them understand the question, "What Is High Blood Pressure?".
There are many factors which can cause heart disease. One of these is high blood pressure. So let's talk about that now.
What Causes High Blood Pressure?
We have all experienced the blood pressure cuff. The nurse wraps the long strip of heavy
fabric around our arm, then sticks the velcro end down and begins pumping a little ball at
the end of a tube which is attached to the fabric (most are automatic now).
The cuff fills with air which squeezes our arm to an uncomfortable level. What the nurse is doing is
cutting off the blood flow with this pressure. The heart has continued to pump so when
the pressure is released the nurse is able to listen through the stethoscope and to
actually hear the flow of the blood.
The first sound (s)he hears is the maximum output pressure of the blood beginning to flow
again as our heart pumps. That number is the systolic number or the first number of our
blood pressure, such as 120/80.
As the pressure continues to lower the nurse listens until there is no sound. The sound stops
because there is less pressure. The reason there is less pressure is that the heart is
relaxed between pumps. This number is the bottom number and is called the diastolic reading.
Our beating heart contracts and relaxes, contracts and relaxes, contracts and relaxes. The
contraction is what is called systolic pressure. While it is contracting it is forcing
blood into the blood vessels that go to the lungs as well as the body.
The relaxation part of the heart beat is called diastolic pressure. The ventricles,
which were emptied of blood when the heart contracted and forced the blood into the vessels,
fills back up with the blood that comes from the upper chambers. Then the contraction
and relaxation is repeated again.
If the heart has a hard time pumping the blood into the vessels and through our bodies,
as can happen when the arteries narrow, it has to work too hard. This causes the systolic
pressure and diastolic pressure to increase - thereby making our numbers go up, such as 140/90.
Our hearts are nourished by blood, too. Blood vessels called coronary arteries extend over
the surface of our hearts and branch into smaller capillaries. If blood isn't pumped into
these arteries as needed our hearts will suffer.
We should now be able to answer the question, "What is High Blood Pressure?" but there are other
important things to know also. Such as:
- What are arteries and veins and how do they work?
- What are causes of arteries narrowing?
- What happens when our hearts work too hard?
Find those answers at our page on Arteries and Veins.
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