High blood pressure is likely the most important topic we can discuss, given that high blood pressure is common and contributes significantly to many diseases such as heart disease, kidney disease, and strokes. We’re not going to cover everything this week, but let’s answer the questions “What is blood pressure?” and “Why does it matter?”
First, “What’s blood?” Our body is a collection of specialized systems, but each is nothing without the others. What’s a brain without sense organs (eye, skin…) or a heart without lungs? We are a collection of parts (kidneys, intestines, liver…), each depending on all the other organs to perform their role. However, the parts can only make a whole if they are connected, and it’s the blood that ties everything together. Oxygen, nutrients, and hormones in the blood are the fuel and instructions every cell needs to do its job.
The second is pressure. Pressure is a measure of force. Blood must reach every cell in the body with its contents for the system to work. Blood pressure generated by the heart allows blood to connect and fuel all our specialized parts.
So why does the pressure of the blood matter? I might ask why does the power company worry about having the correct voltage reach your house? Can you water the garden with a pressure washer? Should you drive a nail a sledgehammer? Force matters! Too much blood pressure damages the delicate organs of our bodies over time, and Not enough blood pressure, and our organ systems can’t function.
“Sounds simple enough. What’s the complicated part?” For one, measuring blood pressure can be complicated. The pressure of our blood is adaptable to our situation, and there are times, such as exercise, when it’s supposed to elevate. Hypertension, a medical condition, is elevated resting blood pressure. If the blood pressure is constantly elevated, even at rest, then over time, the organs the blood supplies wear out too soon. A heart or kidney might typically last for 90-100 years or more, but could start failing much due to hypertension. Thankfully, hypertension is one of the most treatable conditions. Mild hypertension can sometimes be effectively treated with lifestyle changes (less salt intake, weight loss, diets high in fruits and veggies, and exercise). Thankfully, we have a large selection of medications with long track records of proven benefits to address high blood pressure.