Ever wonder what your blood pressure numbers mean? Here’s an explanation using a water faucet and pipe to demonstrate. And now there’s a THIRD pressure that’s important to your overall health and is worth monitoring as well.
What’s Your Pulse Pressure?
Pulse pressure is the numeric difference between systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
Predictor of Heart Attacks and Cardiovascular Disease
A resting pulse pressure in sitting position in healthy adults is about 30-40 mm Hg. For adults over age 60, especially men, a pulse pressure higher than 60 can be a useful predictor of heart attacks or other cardiovascular disease.
- A greater pulse pressure indicates that your vessels are stiffer and more damaged.
- If the aorta becomes rigid, such as from atherosclerosis, a.k.a., “hardening of the arteries”, your pulse pressure would be very high.
- Per a meta-analysis of several studies of 8,000 elderly subjects, the combined results found that a 10-point increase in pulse pressure increased the risk of major cardiovascular complications and mortality by nearly 20%.
NOTE: A low pulse pressure (i.e., 25 mm Hg or less) may mean aortic valve stenosis or congestive heart failure where a low volume of blood is ejected per beat.
Causes of Arterial Stiffness
The most important cause of an elevated pulse pressure is arterial stiffening, in particular, stiffness of the aorta (the largest artery in the body). Arteries stiffen with age, just like tissues in your skin, lungs, heart, tendons, and joints, due to:
- Degeneration of elastin fibers
- Stiffer collagen
- Fatty deposits damaging the arterial walls and resulting in them being less elastic (atherosclerosis)
Results of Arterial Stiffness
- Your heart enlarges. When arteries stiffen and lose their elasticity, your heart must contract more forcefully with each heart beat in order for your blood to circulate adequately. The extra work that your heart must perform can lead to physical changes in the musculature of your heart (e.g., size and shape), specifically the lower chambers (the ventricles). It’s just like how your biceps get bigger that occurs when you exercise them harder.
- You’re prone to irregular heart beats (cardiac arrhythmias). If the remodeling also affects the upper chambers (the atria), it can disrupt the electrical pathways that generate the signals telling your heart when to contract.
- You’re at a higher risk of a heart attack and stroke. The cause of most cardiovascular events and cerebrovascular accidents is the growth and eventual rupture of arterial plaques.
Which Is the Better Pulse Pressure?
160/120 mm Hg OR 110/70 mm Hg? (The pulse pressure in each pair = 40 mm Hg.)
Higher systolic and diastolic pairs imply higher risk of heart attacks and heart disease