I have been told that I have high blood pressure. What is high blood pressure, and what is normal blood pressure? —jb, washington
You may have noticed that if you force the same amount of water through hoses of different diameters, the water comes out with different forces. Water flowing ten gallons per minute through a 5/8-inch hose will eject with greater force than the same amount of water flowing through a 1-inch hose. It is the same in your body. Many complex factors determine the level of blood pressure, but essentially it is dependent upon the diameter of the vessel (artery or vein) and the volume and force of the fluid (blood) flowing through it.
Since we always have blood in our vessels while we are living, we always have blood pressure. Blood pressure needs to be at a certain level to keep us alive and healthy. With too little pressure, the life-bearing components of blood cannot cross or perfuse through the blood vessel walls. Too much pressure causes damage to blood vessels in the entire body and affects many organs, which can lead to problems such as kidney disease, eye disease, or stroke. Ellen White experienced the effects of high blood pressure, which made her incapable of writing for several days. This episode is recorded in Testimonies, vol. 1, 577.
Scholars credit Galen, a Greek physician born in 130 a.d., as the one who first proposed the existence of blood. However, the first mention of blood in the Bible is in Genesis 4:10 when Cain killed Abel. Galen believed that the heart actually made blood. It was not understood until about 1616 that the heart was a pump that circulated blood. In 1733, Stephen Hales, a British veterinarian, was the first to measure blood pressure by inserting a tube into the artery of a horse and noting the level of the blood in the glass. Fortunately, blood pressure measurement has become a lot easier and less painful. Samuel von Bosch invented the first sphygmomanometer, or blood pressure-measuring device, in 1881. It was improved by the early 1900s to what we know today as the blood pressure cuff.
When getting your blood pressure checked, you will have noted that there are two numbers. The measurement of 120/80 (mm Hg) is considered to be normal blood pressure. The first or top number is a measurement of systolic blood pressure. This is the maximum pressure in your arteries, which occurs when your heart contracts. The second or bottom number is a measurement of diastolic blood pressure. This reflects the lowest pressure in your arteries, which occurs when your heart is at rest between beats.
High blood pressure, called hypertension, is generally thought to begin at 140/90. Primary hypertension means that no obvious cause can be found. Secondary hypertension is caused by another health problem, such as kidney or hormonal disease. There are several risk factors for hypertension. “Risk factor” is a term that means that certain groups of people have the problem more than others. Medical studies have shown that one risk factor is age. Newborns can have levels as low as 50/40, but the systolic can increase to over 200 in some elderly people. Race is another risk factor, with high blood pressure occurring more often in some races than others. Weight is a third factor; the more overweight a person is, the more likely he or she is to have high blood pressure.
Risk factors, however, can relate to lifestyle as much as, if not more than, hereditary. Just because we get old does not mean that we are doomed to hypertension. Certain populations may have more of certain diseases because they “inherit” the lifestyle of their parents. In other words, if they grew up eating diets high in meat, dairy products, and refined foods, for example, they usually continue to eat the same way as adults and teach the same diets to their children. What we truly inherit from our parents is a potential weakness in certain areas. This does not predict your future, but what it says is that if you lead an unhealthy lifestyle, you will feel the consequences, and the area that fails may be the weak one that you inherited. In some families, this is the heart; in others, it is gastrointestinal tract, and so forth.
Many people ask, “What are the symptoms of high blood pressure?” The truth is that there may not be any. This is why hypertension is called “the silent killer.” You may never realize that you have high blood pressure, but what is going on behind the scenes can be very harmful. High blood pressure makes the heart work harder, which makes the heart muscle become larger. This increases the heart’s demand for oxygen, but when the demand exceeds the supply, the heart may fail. The other problem relating to high blood pressure relates to the damage of the blood vessels. Sustained high blood pressure causes damage in the blood vessel walls, which is called atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries. These changes lead to damage in the organs that the vessels supply, such as the kidneys and the retinas of the eyes. When a person notices symptoms relating to any of these damages, it generally means that the blood pressure has been high for a long time.
Medical treatment usually entails two things: lifestyle modification and medication. Lifestyle modification is often suggested, but has not been fully examined by the field of medicine as a potential remedy of the hypertension. Lifestyle changes include reducing weight, eliminating alcohol ingestion, and modifying sodium and fat intake. Changing one’s lifestyle to fit the one given to us by the Lord in the Bible is the best effort in not only treating the symptoms of disease but in removing the cause.
Sheryle Beaudry, a certified teletriage nurse, writes from Estacada, Oregon where she lives with her husband and twin daughters. She may be contacted by e-mail at: email@example.com. If there is a health-related question you would like answered in LandMarks, please e-mail your question to: firstname.lastname@example.org, or mail it to: LandMarks, Steps to Life, P. O. Box 782828, Wichita, KS 67278.