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Knowing blood pressure numbers can help prevent disease, death

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When responding to a medical emergency, one of the first things emergency medical personnel do is check the patient’s vital signs. One of these is blood pressure.

Checking a person’s blood pressure can be done manually or with a digital blood pressure cuff. I prefer the digital blood pressure machines for several reasons. First, they are easy. Second, anyone can use them. And third, they are fast and generally accurate.

I do not suggest monitors used on the wrist or fingers as I found these are not as reliable as those on the arm.

Blood pressure is a good indicator of how well a person’s heart is running. Frequently checks allow us to monitor how lifestyle changes such as weight loss and exercise affect our blood pressure. We can see if medications affect it. And during pregnancy, high blood pressure may indicate a need for medical care.

Here are the steps for checking blood pressure. Ideally, don’t eat, smoke or exercise for at least 30 minutes before taking a blood pressure test. And try not to measure blood pressure when nervous, upset or in a crowded room. The person should be calm and quiet.

Step 1. Sit in a comfortable, relaxed position with both feet on the floor.

Step 2. Slightly bend the arm and rest it on a table or pillow so it is level with the heart.

Step 3. Wrap the blood pressure cuff around a bare upper arm (no clothing under the cuff). It should be snug, but not too tight. The bottom of the blood pressure cuff should be about 1 inch above the bend of the elbow and the hose should be in the front center crease of the arm (where the arm bends).

Step 4. Press the on/off button. After a few seconds, a heart or ready symbol will appear.

Step 5. Press the start button; the cuff will begin to inflate. Stay still, feet on the floor. No talking. Soon the cuff will begin to deflate.

Step 6. When the machine is finished, it will display three numbers to indicate blood pressure and pulse rate.

Blood pressure is the measure of how hard the blood pushes against the walls of the arteries as it moves through the body. Blood pressure is recorded with two numbers. The first, called systolic pressure, shows how hard the blood pushes when the heart is pumping. The second, called diastolic pressure, shows how hard the blood pushes between heartbeats, when the heart is relaxed and filling with blood.

Today, I checked my blood pressure and had a systolic pressure of 120 and a diastolic pressure of 80. My blood pressure is 120/80, often spoken as 120 over 80.

High blood pressure is often called the silent killer. Most of the time, high blood pressure has no obvious signs or symptoms. According to the American Heart Association, nearly 20 percent of people with high blood pressure — one out of every five — don’t even know they have it.

If left undetected and uncontrolled, high blood pressure can lead to heart attack, stroke, heart failure, kidney disease or failure, vision loss, sexual dysfunction, angina, and peripheral artery disease (PAD).

High blood pressure cannot be cured. However, it can be effectively managed through lifestyle changes and, when needed, medication. It is important that all crew check their blood pressure periodically. If it’s high, seek medical help.

There are several good charts from the American Heart Association, the Mayo Clinic and WebMD that explain the readings and identify when it gets high enough to be of concern. Find them on the internet and download them for free. I recommend keeping it with the machine for easy use.

Stay safe, know your numbers and, if the numbers are high, call your doctor.
Trained as an emergency medical technician, Keith Murray now owns The CPR School, which provides onboard CPR, AED and first-aid training as well as AED sales and service (www.TheCPRSchool.com). Comments are welcome at editor@the-triton.com.

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