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What Is Blood Pressure and What Are the Ways the Body Regulates It

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Blood pressure is a measure of how well our cardiovascular system is functioning. We all require a blood pressure high enough to give our organs the blood and nutrients they need, but not so high our blood vessels become damaged

As such, our bodies must maintain control over our blood pressure to keep it at a normal level. In this article, we will consider the short term and long term control of blood pressure, as well as some of the problems when control of blood pressure is lost.

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Maintaining important physiological parameters, such as temperature, blood pressure, pH, blood sugar levels and oxygen saturation of the blood, in narrow ranges is crucial for biological health and is referred to as homeostasis (literally translated as ‘unchanging’). Biological health occurs when the body systems are functioning adequately to keep these parameters in their normal range.Disease occurs when one or more of these extends outside the range.There are numerous homeostatic mechanisms in the body, all of which consist of three basic components: a receptor that is able to detect a stimulus in the internal body environment and convey this along an afferent pathway to a control centre, where inputs from many receptors are integrated and where the set point is determined.From here an efferent pathway runs to the third component; the effector, which produces a controlled response to either decrease or enhance the stimulus. Most homeostatic mechanisms work to decrease the stimulus, i.e. form a negative feedback system (except blood clotting, which has a positive feedback system).So if an increase in, for example, blood pressure is detected, homeostasis will act to reduce this back to within the normal range. An important parameter that must be kept within the normal range for biological health is blood pressure.Every cell in our body requires a constant supply of nutrients, such as glucose and oxygen, as well as removal of waste products, such as carbon dioxide, to prevent a toxic build up.To maintain this constant exchange of material, we rely on blood to circulate in the transport network of blood vessels and interact with cells in organs and tissues.If this does not occur at a sufficient rate cells suffer hypoxia, lack of energy substrates and the toxic effects of metabolic waste build up, which leads to poor function and eventually cell death.Therefore, it is obviously crucial to maintain blood flow at a sufficient rate through the systemic tissues and lungs.

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The peripheral vascular resistance: The arterioles are controlled by the sympathetic nervous system which releases noradrenaline that causes a contraction in muscles and the narrowing of the arterioles leading to a rise in blood pressure (Greenstein, 2009). The volume and viscosity of the blood are managed by the kidneys. When the receptors recognise a change in the blood pressure falls, the kidneys produce a substance called renin, which when undergoes difficult changes may lead to water and salt retention by the kidneys and the emergence of angiotensin two, which causes vasoconstriction and eventually causes a raised blood pressure (Greenstein, 2009). In emergency situations when a patient has high blood pressure, they are usually given sodium nitroprusside which is a strong vasodilator

It is used to treat emergency hypertension and severe cardiac failure. It expands both arterial and venous blood vessels, and consequently a reduced peripheral resistance and venous return (Greenstein, 2009). Ace inhibitors also help to reduce blood pressure, however, if a patient is taking this drug with diuretics the initial dose should be low because it can lead to a sudden fall in blood pressure (Greenstein, 2009). ACE inhibitors should not be given to pregnant women as it can lead to feotus damage. When the body’s blood pressure is too high (greater than 120/80mmHg), the baroreceptors reflex increases which activate the parasympathetic stimulations of the heart, which leads to a fall in cardiac output. Sympathetic stimulations in the peripheral arterioles will fall leading to vasodilation (the relaxation of the walls of blood vessels) and a consequent fall in blood pressure (Martín-Vázquez and Reyes del Paso, 2010) is achieved.

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In essence, over time, the force and friction of high blood pressure damages the delicate tissues inside the arteries. In turn, LDL (bad) cholesterol forms plaque along tiny tears in the artery walls, signifying the start of atherosclerosis. The more the plaque and damage increases, the narrower (smaller) the insides of the arteries become — raising blood pressure and starting a vicious circle that further harms your arteries, heart and the rest of your body. This can ultimately lead to other conditions ranging from arrhythmia to heart attack and stroke.

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Greenstein, B., 2009. Trounce’s Clinical Pharmacology For Nurses, Eighteenth Edition. ed. Churchill Livingstone, Edinurgh London New York Philadelphia St Louis Sydney Toronto.

Kario, D.K., 2015. Essential manual of 24 hour blood pressure management. Wiley & sons Ltd.

Kougias, P., Weakley, S.M., Yao, Q., Lin, P.H., Chen, C., 2010. Arterial baroreceptors in the management of systemic hypertension. Med. Sci. Monit. Int. Med. J. Exp. Clin. Res. 16, RA1-8.

Martín-Vázquez, M., Reyes del Paso, G.A., 2010. Physical training and the dynamics of the cardiac baroreflex: A comparison when blood pressure rises and falls. Int. J. Psychophysiol. 76, 142–147. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2010.03.004

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