Blood pressure is that pressure which must be applied to an artery in order to stop the pulse beyond the point of pressure. It may be roughly estimated by feeling the pulse at the wrist, or accurately measured using a SPHYGMOMANOMETER. It is dependent on the pumping force of the heart, together with the volume of blood, and on the elasticity of the blood vessels.
The blood pressure is biphasic, being greatest (systolic pressure) at each heartbeat and falling (diastolic pressure) between beats. The average systolic pressure is around 100 mm Hg in children and 120 mm Hg in young adults, generally rising with age as the arteries get thicker and harder. Diastolic pressure in a healthy young adult is about 80 mm Hg, and a rise in diastolic pressure is often a surer indicator of HYPERTENSION than is a rise in systolic pressure; the latter is more sensitive to changes of body position and emotional mood. Hypertension has various causes, the most important of which are kidney disease (see KIDNEYS, DISEASES OF), genetic predisposition and, to some extent, mental stress. Systolic pressure may well be over 200 mm Hg. Abnormal hypertension is often accompanied by arterial disease (see ARTERIES, DISEASES OF) with an increased risk of STROKE, heart attack and heart failure (see HEART, DISEASES OF). Various ANTIHYPERTENSIVE DRUGS are available; these should be carefully evaluated, considering the patient’s full clinical history, before use.
HYPOTENSION may result from superﬁcial vasodilation (for example, after a bath, in fevers or as a side-eﬀect of medication, particularly that prescribed for high blood pressure) and occur in weakening diseases or heart failure. The blood pressure generally falls on standing, leading to temporary postural hypotension – a particular danger in elderly people.