How Vascular Tone Affects the Heart

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Colon blood vessels, light micrograph

Tone, also known as vascular tone, describes the diameter and tone of a blood vessel when it is fully dilated. All arteries and veins show some degree of smooth muscle contraction that affects the tone of the vessel.

The Vascular tone varies among different organs. The vascular tone of the pulmonary system may be different than that of the coronary vascular system. The vascular tone of blood vessels and arteries determine how hard the heart has to work to pump blood throughout the body. When there is no resistance from blood vessels, the heart is able to pump smoothly, reducing the risk of heart disease. The higher the resistance from blood vessels, the harder the heart has to pump, the higher the risk of heart disease.

Too much resistance pushing against artery walls is known as high blood pressure or hypertension. High blood pressure will, over the course of time, damage the walls of the larger arteries, such as the aorta and carotids, as well as the smaller ones, the cerebral, coronary and renal arteries. High blood pressure makes the heart work harder pumping blood throughout the body.

Blood pressure has two readings, the top number is the systolic and the bottom number is diastolic. Ranges for blood pressure are:

  • Normal:                           Less than 120 over 80 (120/80)
  • Prehypertension:            120-139 over 80-89
  • Stage 1 hypertension:    140-159 over 90-99
  • Stage 2 hypertension:    160 and above over 100 and above

For people age 60 and above, the readings for high blood pressure are 150 and above over 90 and above.

Risks of Hypertension

Uncontrolled hypertension causes arteries to become narrow, stiff and inflexible. As a result, the heart has to work harder to move blood through the body. This can result in stroke, heart attack, and heart failure. Heart failure can also damage kidneys, cause problems with vision, and affect memory.

Treatment of Hypertension

The goal is to bring blood pressure to a level of less than 140/90 mmHg.  Patients with chronic diseases such as diabetes or kidney disease should strive for a goal less than 130/80 mmHg. Some patients may need several medications.

Medications that have been used to reach acceptable blood pressure levels include:

  • Thiazide-type diuretics
  • ACE inhibitors
  • Angiotensin II receptor blockers
  • Beta blockers
  • Calcium channel blockers
  • Renin inhibitors

Medication to reduce blood pressure to acceptable levels will be determined by a medical professional.

Treating Hypertension With Lifestyle Modifications

By taking an active role in their care, patients can help to reduce hypertension by making the following modifications:

  • Losing weight
  • Eating more fruits, vegetables
  • Eating low-fat dairy products
  • Lowering the level of sodium intake
  • Exercising regularly
  • Cutting down on alcohol consumption
  • Quitting smoking

Medication needs to be taken regularly and patients should not skip a dose.

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