A not so Brief History of High Blood Pressure
Before delving into High Blood Pressure I thought it would be interesting to look at the history behind the discovery and treatment of it. There is an extensive history but I chose to begin in the 16th century. William Harvey, born in Kent England April 1, 1578, was the first physician to accurately describe the circulation of blood through the human body. Prior to him physicians felt that the lungs were responsible for the circulation of blood.
Harvey studied medicine at the Univerisita of Padua in Italy. Studying under the renowned surgeon Hieronymus Fabricius, Harvey became fascinated with anatomy and physiology like his teacher. Fabricius had discovered that the veins in the body were comprised of one way check valves. Allowing blood flow not to back up, but to continue forward. Yet it was Harvey who took the foundation of Fabricius’ teaching, and went on to solve the riddle of what part the valves played in the circulation of blood through the body.
In his book “De motu cordis” he explained how the heart was the organ that was responsible for blood flow in all beings, animal and human.
A century and a half later, comes Reverend Stephen Hales a graduate of Cambridge University, and a brilliant experimental scientist. In 1733 Hale found that by inserting a tube into a vein he could determine the blood pressure. He stated, “ Since animal fluids move by hydraulic and hydrostatic laws, the likeliest ways therefore to succeed in our inquiries into the nature of their motions, is by adapting our experiments to those laws.” You should read the fascinating account of the experiment he did with his horse.
Thomas Young one of the translators of the Rosetta Stone, was the first to describe hypertension as a disease. This was presented in the Croonian Lectures 1808 where he lectured on the function of the heart and arteries. He claimed to have measured the percent fall in systolic and diastolic blood pressure in dogs from the aorta to the mesenteric arteries of 200-mmm diameter. The decrement averaged 16 mm Hg. Approximately 150 years later, modern science remeasured the pressure drop using modern dynamic equipment and found an average pressure drop of 17% systolic and 12% diastolic from aorta to mesenteric arteries of 200~pm diameter-a remarkable agreement, considering the methods used in Young’s time.
But blood pressure readings really came into its own with the invention of the device called a sphygmomanometer by Scipione Riva-Rocci in 1896. For the first time blood pressures could be taken in a clinical setting. In nursing school when we were learning how to take a blood pressure reading, the old fashioned way, we were introduced to “Korotkoff Sounds”. These are the swishing sounds that can be heard in the artery with a stethoscope when the blood pressure cuff is deflated.
Essential Hypertension was used to describe hypertension with no evident cause by Eberhard Frank in 1911, while malignant hypertension, a term used to describe severe hypertension which eventually resulted in death, was first used by The Mayo Clinic in 1928.
In 1931, John Hay, Professor of Medicine at liverpool University, wrote that “There is some truth in the saying that “The greatest danger to a man with a high blood pressure lies in its discovery, because then some fool is certain to try and reduce it.”
There are so many fascinating reads on the development of the science behind high blood pressure but the time and space it would take me would fill a book. So now let’s take a look at high blood pressure, what it is, the mechanics behind it, along with medical and alternative methods of treatment.
What Is High Blood Pressure:
Blood pressure is the force of blood pressure pushing against blood vessel walls. High blood pressure means the pressure in the arteries is high than it should be. Another name for high blood pressure is hypertension.
Blood pressure is written as two numbers, such as 120/80. The top number, or systolic pressure, is the pressure as the heart beats. The bottom number or, diastolic pressure, is the number when the number when the heart is at rest.
Normal blood pressure is 120/80 or below. If it is higher 120-139 or the diastolic number is 80-89 your considered pre-hypertensive. High blood pressure is considered when your systolic number is 140 and higher and your diastolic number is greater than 90.
It is estimated that about 80 million over the age of 20 or 1 in 3 people have high blood pressure. Many people do not even know that they have hypertension. With virtually no symptoms it has been dubbed the silent killer.
High blood pressure can take years to develop, and it affects almost everyone eventually. Fortunately high blood pressure can be easily detected. Once you know you have it, it can be managed by lifestyle modifications and with some medications.
Some people with high blood pressure have headaches, shortness of breath, and nose bleeds. But usually those who have these symptoms are those whose blood pressure has become critical and life threatening.
The reason for high blood pressure
There are essentially 2 types of hypertension. Primary and Secondary. There is a type of high blood pressure called pulmonary hypertension, but this is not discussed in this article.Primary Hypertension
Primary hypertension is when there is no identifiable cause for it. This type of hypertension takes years to develop, and the majority of people fall into this category of hypertension.Secondary Hypertension
This is the type of hypertension that has an underlying cause. This type tends to appear suddenly and causes higher blood pressure than primary hypertension. Various medical conditions that can cause secondary hypertension are:
- Obstructive sleep apnea
- Kidney problems
- Adrenal gland tumors
- Thyroid problems
- Certain defects in the blood vessels your born with (congenital abnormalities)
- Certain medications such as ibuprofen, birth control pills, cold remedies, decongestants, over the counter pain relievers, and some prescription drugs.
- Illegal drugs such as cocaine, and amphetamines
- Alcohol abuse or chronic alcohol usage
High Blood Pressure – Risk Factors (The Bad)
- Age – Your risk of high blood pressure increases as you become older. Middle age or around 45 high blood pressure can begin to appear. High blood pressure tends to be more common in men. Women generally begin developing high blood pressure after age 65.
- Ethnicity – High blood pressure seems to be more prevalent in african americans. It often develops at an earlier age than in caucasians. The serious complications such as heart attack, stroke, and kidney failure are also more common in this patient population.
Family History- Those with a familial history tend to be genetically predisposed to developing hypertension. Although it is not quiet certain if it it is genetically link or it is an acquired lifestyle.
- Being overweight or obese – The greater your body mass index over 25 the greater your chances of developing hypertension. The more you are overweight the harder your heart has to work to deliver oxygen rich blood and nutrients to your body. This means your heart needs to pump more blood to tissues. The increase in the volume of blood that is demanded the more pressure is exerted on your artery walls.
- Decreased physical activity – Inactivity leads to higher heart rates. The higher that your heart rate is means that your heart has to work that much harder. As your heart works harder it means more force with the contractions is applied on your artery walls. Inactivity also leads to being overweight.
- Cigarette Smoking – It is widely agreed upon the cigarette smoking elevates your blood pressure. In fact you blood pressure can remained elevated for a much as an hour. But most smokers do not just smoke 1 per hour so you blood pressure never has a chance to come back down. And it is not only the smoke but the many chemicals, as much as 4,000 different chemicals that causes high blood pressure (carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, ammonia, arsenic, hydrogen cyanide) to name a few. Smoking also can cause your arteries to narrow further elevating your blood pressure.
- Too Much Salt In Your Diet – No matter where you fall in the debate there is ample evidence that too much salt can elevate your blood pressure. Salt causes fluid retention and increase the workload of your kidneys which create angiotensin 1 a hormone that is converted to angiotensin 2 in your lungs.
- Not Enough Potassium – Potassium is a big part of the sodium-potassium pump. This is the pump that ensures the right balance of sodium enters into your cells. Without enough potassium you will end up with too much sodium. This will lead to water retention increasing your blood pressure.
- Not Enough Sunshine Vitamin – Also known as “Vitamin D” this vitamin deficiency has been linked to high blood pressure. Effecting an enzyme in your kidneys, angiotensin, is used by your body to regulate your blood pressure.
- Stress – Yes the “S” word no one likes to talk about. High levels of stress, and being in the fight or flight mode continually increases blood pressure and the release of cortisol into the bloodstream, raising blood sugar.
Also chronic medical condition such as kidney disease, diabetes, and sleep apnea increase your risk for developing high blood pressure.
High Blood Pressure Complications (The Ugly)
With uncontrolled high blood pressure you run the risk of severe complication. Medical emergencies such as heart attack, stroke, aneurysm, heart failure, kidney failure, eye problems, sudden hearing loss, and metabolic syndrome.
Controlling High Blood Pressure (The Good)
There are many ways you can control your high blood pressure and bring your numbers down into a normal range. Things you can do to take control are:
- If you are overweight lose the weight. For every 20 lbs you lose you can drop your systolic blood pressure 5-20 points.
- Quitting Smoking can naturally lower your blood pressure 5-10 points.
- Getting more exercise can lower your numbers 5-15 points.
- Decreasing caffeine intake lowers your diastolic pressure by 4-13 points
- Decrease alcohol intake lowers your numbers 2-4 points.
- Avoiding all processed foods lowers your numbers 10 points.
- Decrease salt intake or stop altogether up to 25 Points.
- Eat more fruits and vegetables
- Use natural remedies
- If your physician has prescribed medication, take as directed
As you can see you have a lot of power and control over your numbers. You’re not a victim. Taking control of your high blood pressure is your responsibility no one else’s. But many people are depending on you to do so. There is so much good information on the web and some bad. Do your own research and become your own health advocate.
Read. Get informed. Become a “Nutritarian”. That means getting the most nutrient dense food you can get into your diet and yes sometimes you will have to say know to the chips, cakes and cookies. As a nurse none of my patients with heart issues ever told me, “ I wish I had eaten more junk food.” We are adults, and we know what we are suppose to be doing.
We need to stop seeking the path of least resistance and start being heros for ourselves and those we love, and who love us. Until we can make high blood pressure a thing of the past. I highly recommend that you get the following books into your own personal library.Related Books for Further Reading:
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