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What Is Pulse Pressure? - Definition, Variation & Normal Range

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  • 0:00 Definition and Normal Range
  • 1:05 Variation
  • 1:34 Health Concerns
  • 2:55 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Nadine James

Nadine has taught nursing for 12 years and has a PhD in Nursing research

In this lesson, you will learn what pulse pressure is, how it is measured, and the ranges of normal levels. Also included will be examples of variations in pulse pressure and how it is related to health.

Definition and Normal Range

Pulse pressure is the difference between the systolic blood pressure and the diastolic blood pressure. The systolic blood pressure is sometimes known to non-health professionals as the top number. It represents the amount of pressure exerted on the blood vessels when the ventricle of the heart contracts (systole).

So, the diastolic blood pressure is the lower number, and it represents the amount of pressure on the blood vessels when the heart is at rest. A heart is at rest when it is between contractions. Normal ranges of blood pressure are less than 120 for systolic and less than 80 for diastolic, according to the World Health Organization.

Pulse pressure is measured by millimeters of mercury (mmHg). Mercury is the only metal that is liquid at room temperature, so it is used to determine measurement of thermometers and barometers. The normal range for the pulse pressure is between 30 to 50 mmHg.

Variation

A few examples of pulse pressure variation in several processes in the body are:

  1. Low blood volume, known as hypovolemia, will increase pulse pressure
  2. Decreased heart rate, known as bradycardia, will increase pulse pressure
  3. Irregular heartbeat, which may cause increased pulse pressure
  4. Control of increased blood pressure, which will usually lower high pulse pressures

Health Concerns

Pulse pressure is thought to be the strongest predictor of heart disease in the elderly. However, this may not be true for other populations.

In lower-than-normal pulse pressures, or below 40 mmHg, a person may have poor heart function. Some causes of this include sustained increased heart rate (above 100), pericardial effusion (an abnormal accumulation of fluid in the pericardial cavity), and ascites (the accumulation of fluid in the peritoneal cavity). Pulse pressure is an important predictor of death in patients that use dialysis for end-stage kidney disease.

Higher-than-normal range pulse pressure can help to predict heart disease, especially in adults over 60 years old. At a pulse pressure of 60 mmHg or greater, the person would be considered at risk for heart disease.

The most usual cause of higher pulse pressure is from stiffness in the largest artery in the body - the aorta of the heart. The cause of the stiffness can be due to high blood pressure or atherosclerosis (fatty deposits in the arteries). Other causes of high pulse pressure include anemia (low iron in the blood) and hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid).

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