Disturbances of the Heart

Author: Oliver T. Osborne

Blood Pressure

The study of the blood pressure has become a subject of great importance in the practice of medicine and surgery. No condition can be properly treated, no operation should be performed, and no prognosis is of value without a proper consideration of the sufficiency of the circulation, and the condition of the circulation cannot be properly estimated without an accurate estimate of the systolic and diastolic blood pressure. However perfectly the heart may act, it cannot properly circulate the blood without a normal tone of the blood vessels, both arteries and veins. Abnormal vasodilatation seriously interferes with the normal circulation, and causes venous congestion, abnormal increase in venous blood pressure, and the consequent danger of shock and death. Increased arterial tone or tonicity necessitates greater cardiac effort, to overcome the resistance, and hypertrophy of the heart must follow. This hypertrophy always occurs if the peripheral resistance is not suddenly too great or too rapidly acquired. In other words, if the peripheral resistance gradually increases, the left ventricle hypertrophies, and remains for a long time sufficient. If, from disease or disturbance in the lungs, the resistance in the pulmonary circulation is increased, the right ventricle hypertrophies to overcome it, and the circulation is sufficient as long as this ventricle is able to do the work. If either this pulmonary increased pressure or the systemic increased pressure persists or becomes too great, it is only a question of how many months, in the case of the right ventricle, and how many years, in the case of the left ventricle, the heart can stand the strain.

If the cause of the increased systemic tension is an arterial fibrosis, sooner or later the heart will become involved in this general condition, and a chronic myocarditis is likely to result. If, on the other hand, there is a continuous low systemic arterial blood pressure, the circulation is always more or less insufficient, nutrition is always imperfect, and the physical ability of the individual is below par. It is evident, therefore, that an abnormally high blood pressure is of serious import, its cause must be studied, and effort must be made to remove as far as possible the cause. On the other hand, a persistently low blood pressure may be of serious import, and always diminishes physical ability. If possible, the cause should be determined, and the condition improved.

No physician can now properly practice medicine without having a reliable apparatus for determining the blood pressure both in his office and at the bedside. It is not necessary to discuss here the various kinds of apparatus or what is essential in an apparatus for it to give a perfect reading. It may be stated that in determining the systolic and diastolic pressure in the peripheral arteries, the ordinary stethoscope is as efficient as any more elaborate auscultatory apparatus.

It is now generally agreed by all scientific clinicians that it is as essential—almost more essential—to determine the diastolic pressure as the systolic pressure; therefore the auscultatory method is the simplest, as well as one of the most accurate in determining these pressures. Of course it should be recognized that the systolic pressure thus obtained will generally be some millimeters above that obtained with the finger, perhaps the average being equivalent to about 5 mm. of mercury. The diastolic pressure will often range from 10 to 15 mm. below the reading obtained by other methods. Therefore, wider range of pressure is obtained by the auscultatory method than by other methods. This difference of 5 or more millimeters of systolic pressure between the auscultatory and the palpatory readings should be remembered when one is consulting books or articles printed more than two years ago, as many of these pressures were determined by the palpatory method.

Sometimes the compression of the arm by the armlet leads to a rise in blood pressure. [Footnote: MacWilliams and Melvin: Brit. Med. Jour., Nov. 7, 1914.] It has been suggested that the diastolic pressure be taken at the point where the sound is first heard on gradually raising the pressure in the armlet.

In some persons the auscultatory readings cannot be made, or are very unsatisfactory, and it becomes necessary to use the palpation method in taking the systolic pressure. In instances in which the auscultatory method is unsatisfactory, the artery below the bend of the elbow at which the reading is generally taken may be misplaced, or there may be an unusual amount of fat and muscle between the artery and the skin.

The various sounds heard with the stethoscope, when the pressure is gradually lowered, have been divided into phases. The first phase begins with the first audible sound, which is the proper point at which to read the, systolic pressure. The first phase is generally, not always, succeeded by a second phase in which there is a murmurish sound. The third phase is that at which the maximum sharp, ringing note begins, and throughout this phase the sound is sharp and intense, gradually increasing, and then gradually diminishing to the fourth phase, where the sound suddenly becomes a duller tone. The fourth phase lasts until what is termed the fifth phase, or that at which all sound has disappeared. As previously stated, the diastolic pressure may be read at the beginning of the fourth phase, or at the end of the fourth phase, that is, the beginning of the fifth; but the difference is from 3 to 10 mm. of mercury, with an average of perhaps 5 mm.; therefore the difference is not very great. When the diastolic pressure is high, for relative subsequent readings, it is much better to read the diastolic at the beginning of the fifth phase.

It is urged by many observers that the proper reading of the diastolic pressure is always at the beginning of the fourth phase. However, for general use, unless one is particularly expert, it is better to read the diastolic pressure at the beginning of the fifth phase. There can rarely be a doubt in the mind of the person who is auscultating as to the point at which all sound ceases. There is frequently a good deal of doubt, even after large experience, as to just the moment at which the fourth phase begins. With the understanding that the difference is only a few millimeters, which is of very little importance, when the diastolic pressure is below 95, it seems advisable to urge the reading of the diastolic pressure at the beginning of the fifth phase.

The incident of the first phase, or when sound begins, is caused by the sudden distention of the blood vessel below the point of compression by the armlet. In other words, the armlet pressure has at this point been overcome. Young [Footnote: Young: Indiana State Med. Assn. Jour., March, 1914.] believes that the murmurs of the second phase, which in all normal conditions are heard during the 20 mm. drop below the point at which the systolic pressure had been read, is "due to whirlpool eddies produced at the point of constriction of the blood vessel by the cuff of the instrument." The third phase is when these murmurs cease and the sound resembles the first, lasting he thinks for only 5 mm. The third phase often lasts much longer. He thinks the fourth phase, when the sound becomes dull, lasts for about 6 mm.


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Chicago: Oliver T. Osborne, "Blood Pressure," Disturbances of the Heart, ed. Bryant Conant, James and trans. Babington, B. G. (Benjamin Guy), 1794-1866 in Disturbances of the Heart Original Sources, accessed March 1, 2024, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=93ZVJ18553NMK79.

MLA: Osborne, Oliver T. "Blood Pressure." Disturbances of the Heart, edited by Bryant Conant, James, and translated by Babington, B. G. (Benjamin Guy), 1794-1866, in Disturbances of the Heart, Original Sources. 1 Mar. 2024. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=93ZVJ18553NMK79.

Harvard: Osborne, OT, 'Blood Pressure' in Disturbances of the Heart, ed. and trans. . cited in , Disturbances of the Heart. Original Sources, retrieved 1 March 2024, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=93ZVJ18553NMK79.