Did you know that heart disease and stroke are the leading causes of death worldwide? In Uganda for example, one in three adults suffers from high blood pressure and 13% suffer from heart disease, according to World Health Organisation figures released in 2012. Also, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly one-quarter of deaths due to cardiovascular disease are preventable.
Therefore, blood pressure readings are critical for analysing and monitoring blood pressure. These tests record blood pressure using two measurements: SYSTOLIC AND DIASTOLIC blood pressure. Understanding these numbers is key to controlling blood pressure.
WHAT IS SYSTOLIC AND DIASTOLIC PRESSURE?
The systolic pressure shows how much pressure the blood places on the arteries when the heart beats, while the diastolic blood pressure shows the pressure while the heart is resting between beats. The American Heart Association (AHA) advise that blood pressure numbers below 120/80 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) are normal.
When readings range from 120–129 mm Hg systolic and less than 80 mm Hg diastolic, the person has elevated blood pressure. Hypertension occurs when blood pressure is consistently over 130 mm Hg systolic or more than 80 mm Hg diastolic.
NOW WHICH NUMBER IS MORE IMPORTANT?
When doctors evaluate the risk of high blood pressure, they usually pay more attention to SYSTOLIC blood pressure, which they consider a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease in older adults. Decades of research have indicated that high systolic blood pressure is more likely than diastolic pressure to predict heart disease, but now, a new study finds that both numbers in blood pressure readings have a strong association with heart attack and stroke risk.
The research involved more than 36 million blood pressure readings from 1.3 million people. The results challenged previous findings and showed the importance of both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. “This research brings a large amount of data to bear on a basic question, and it gives such a clear answer,” say Dr. Alexander C. Flint, who is the lead author of the study.
LARGE AMOUNTS OF DATA REVEAL THE ANSWER
Dr. Flint explains that previous research has influenced cardiology guidelines, which have focused primarily on systolic pressure to predict the risk of heart disease. Some experts even argue that it might be possible to ignore the diastolic number. The new study is the largest of its kind. The findings confirmed that systolic pressure has a greater effect, but they also demonstrated that both systolic and diastolic pressure can predict the risk of heart attack or stroke.
The researchers analysed the effects of systolic and diastolic hypertension on a variety of adverse outcomes, such as “myocardial infarction, ischemic stroke, or hemorrhagic stroke,” over 8 years and found that both components independently predicted heart attack and stroke. The recently updated American College of Cardiology and AHA guidelines now recommend more closely monitoring people at increased risk of high blood pressure. The findings of the new study that both systolic and diastolic hypertension have an effect at the lower threshold of 130/80 mm Hg support this change.
However, the National Institutes of Health’s Systolic Blood Pressure Intervention Trial (SPRINT) has also produced similar results. “This analysis, using a very large amount of longitudinal data, convincingly demonstrates that both are important, and it shows that in people who are otherwise generally healthy, lower blood pressure numbers are better.”