Many of my clients and family members have high blood pressure. Some require medication and others do not (watch for the next post on hypertension medications and Naturopathic suggestions). As a Naturopathic student and personal trainer, I’ll try to answer some common questions that people have about blood pressure and hypertension, such as:
What is blood pressure?
What is normal?
What does having hypertension mean?
What is Blood Pressure?
Blood pressure (BP) is the measurement of the arterial pressure when the left ventricle of the heart contracts (systolic BP, SBP) and relaxes (diastolic BP, DBP) while pumping blood through the body. It is measured in millimetres of Mercury (mmHg) and is often taken using the brachial artery just above the crease of the elbow. The automatic BP cuffs that you see in stores like Shopper’s Drugmart are not as reliable as the Sphygmomanometer that your Medical or Naturopathic Doctor uses because the cuffs are not individualized to the person’s arm size.
What is Normal?
Normal is a relative term that does not accurately explain a person’s health condition. Obesity could be normal and ‘runs in the family’. Normal could be having a bowel movement once every 3 days for a person who has always experienced this. However in both these examples, normal is not optimal for an individual to feel at their best and have their physical systems working at the maximum potential. The following are the classifications of Hypertension:
Classification Systolic BP Diastolic BP
Optimal: <120 mmHg and <80 mmHg
Pre-hypertension: 120-139 mmHg or 80-89 mmHg
Stage 1 HT: 140-159 mmHg or 90-99 mmHg
Stage 2 HT: ≥ 160 mmHg or ≥ 100mmHg
*note: All definitions of hypertension depend on two or more blood pressure readings taken at each of two or more visits after initial screening
What does having Hypertension mean?
Hypertension (HT) can be a sign that some other underlying mechanism in the body is not functioning optimally. This situation is hypertension due to a secondary disease/ cause and only accounts for 5% of all hypertensive patients. For example, HT could be a result of:
- drug side effects
- renal/ kidney disease
- adrenal disease
Primary or idiopathic hypertension is the most common presentation of HT (95%). This means that the high blood pressure reading is due to an ‘unknown reason’, not to be confused with ‘for no reason’. The mechanisms are complex and are often due to a combination of the following:
1) Changes in cardiac output (the amount of blood pumped out of the heart in 1 minute) due to changes in heart rate or contractility, or renal regulation abnormalities
2) Changes in peripheral vascular resistance (the health and size of blood vessel allowing blood flow away and towards the body’s limbs and organs) due to defects in sympathetic nervous system function, humoral/ immune response abnormalities, or local arteriolar tone abnormalities
Does the lack of disease mean I am healthy?
Idiopathic HT is not usually associated with any symptoms and therefore annual check-ups with your MD and ND are very important. Due to the lack of symptoms and disease, this “HEALTHY HYPERTENSION” can be deceiving because despite individuals feeling ‘healthy’, physiological changes are occurring in the body. Hypertension does not indicate disease, but it can signal that the body is not functioning optimally and the patient has an increased risk of developing other conditions.
The body is intricate, complex and smart. The innate nature of the body is amazing. Without thinking, our bodies will make adjustments to keep critical organ systems functioning and the body in homeostasis, or balance.
For example, a person who becomes overweight has gained more body mass and therefore requires more blood, flowing at a stronger pressure (increased blood pressure!) to get the blood to all areas, including the extra tissue.
High blood pressure or hypertension (HT) stresses the heart because there is a higher amount of blood required to contract with each heart beat. This can cause a number of responses from the body (which can also be the same reasons for the increase in blood pressure in the first place). If all organ systems are functioning well, the following are examples of what can occur without many symptoms experienced:
- Thickening of the heart’s muscular wall – to allow for stronger contractions, but may lead to fibrosis and heart disease
- An increase in heart rate (contractions per minute)
- Signal for the renal/ kidney system to excrete more urine – to lower the blood volume and pressure, but can put heavy stress on the glomerular filtration system and ureters.
If certain organ systems are not functioning properly, the symptoms of hypertension can be more serious and cause a domino effect of problems such as:
- Cardiovascular (Heart) Disease
- Renal (Kidney) dysfunction or failure
If you believe that you are at risk of developing more serious conditions due to high blood pressure or other symptoms, please see your Medical and Naturopathic Doctor for co-managing strategies.
Do you have any questions, comments, or suggestions about my post? Please leave your comments below. Feel free to email me (Contact@DrAlisonChen.com) or visit your Naturopathic Doctor for more information. Don’t forget to see my follow-up post on Hypertension Meds and Naturopathic recommendations.