If you are someone who has experienced the ravages of high blood pressure, you might wonder what the highest point a blood pressure can go. Before that, however, let’s first try to understand blood pressure as a concept. Blood pressure (BP) is the force exerted by your heart on the walls of the blood vessels, against the resistance created by the arteries, to maintain regular blood flow through the body. Your blood pressure elevates (medically called hypertension) when the force is excessive. Blood pressure is one of the four vital signs (the others being respiration rate, oxygen saturation, and body temperature) that indicate the body’s vital (or life-sustaining) functions.
Dual Scale of Blood Pressure (BP) Measurement: Systolic and Diastolic
Blood pressure is usually measured by a medical instrument called a sphygmomanometer. This machine is wrapped around the person’s upper arm for BP measurement.
According to the American Heart Organization, the ideal range for blood pressure is 120/80 mm Hg. A person’s blood pressure is expressed in two values, i.e., 120 and 80. The first value, 120 in the preceding case, is the systolic blood pressure, while the value that follows (after the slash ‘/’ symbol) is the diastolic blood pressure.
- Systolic blood pressure: This unit indicates how much pressure blood exerts (at the time of measurement) against the artery walls when the heart beats. This is when the heart pumps out the blood from the heart and circulates it to different organs in the body.
- Diastolic blood pressure: This unit indicates how much pressure is exerted against the artery walls when the heart is resting between two beats. This is the period when the heart opens its chamber to fill with blood.
Although it might not be medically accurate, as a very simple explanation, consider systolic pressure as the maximum pressure exerted upon the walls of arteries, and think of diastolic pressure as the minimum pressure exerted upon the walls of arteries.
Generally, systolic blood pressure (the first number) receives more medical attention. It is also a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease for older people. It is widely observed that systolic blood pressure rises steadily with age due to the increased stiffness in large arteries and the long-term build-up of plaque.
Blood Pressure Categories
Blood pressure can be classified into four categories based on the readings from a sphygmomanometer:
- Normal: Systolic pressure reading between 90-120 and diastolic pressure reading between 60-80 is considered normal.
- Pre-high blood pressure: Systolic pressure reading between 120-140 and diastolic pressure reading between 80-90 is considered a slightly elevated level of blood pressure.
- High blood pressure: Systolic pressure reading between 140-180 and diastolic pressure reading between 90-100 is considered to be a high blood pressure condition.
- Hypertensive crisis: If one’s systolic pressure exceeds 180 or diastolic pressure crosses 100, it is a stage that requires immediate medical attention.
Highest Blood Pressure
Anything over 180 mm Hg implies a critical medical condition. With BP crossing 180, there is a risk of stroke, heart failure or kidney failure, all of which can lead to death. Now, as the title of this article asked, what is the maximum range of blood pressure that a body can withstand before leading to death?
A study published by doctors in NCBI NLM recorded a maximum blood pressure of 370/360 mm Hg. This study was performed by recording blood pressure in 10 male athletes through radial artery catheterization. Each athlete, as a part of this study, performed double-leg press sets at 85% and 100% of maximum capacity. Athletes were required to perform the given exercise twice; once with a closed glottis Valsalva (a forceful attempted exhalation against the closed airway), and then with slow exhalations during concentric contraction. Although this study provides recorded evidence of the highest blood pressure, this was specifically performed on athletes after extremely stressful physical exercise with forceful breathing. Moreover, this measurement was momentary, i.e., the blood pressure immediately after a heavy weight lift with a forceful Valsalva.
Under normal circumstances (presumably a BP patient not doing heavy exercise), blood pressure approaching 300 is very dangerous. In fact, it is very rare to have any recorded history of 300+ mm Hg of blood pressure. Many individuals have, on various health forums, reported to have experienced (systolic) blood pressure in excess of 250. Most of these individuals have also claimed to experience extreme medical conditions, such as a heavy buzzing in the ears, uncontrollably intense headaches, dizziness and even loss of consciousness.
Giraffe – Animal with the Highest Blood Pressure
We already talked a lot about blood pressure and its extreme limits in human beings, but what about in other animals, especially mammals? Well, giraffes have earned the title of having the highest blood pressure when it comes to terrestrial mammals. Under normal conditions, systolic blood pressure in giraffes is reported to be about 300 mm Hg, along with a systolic pressure of approximately 200 mm Hg. A giraffe’s blood pressure is higher than humans because their bulky heart (measuring 25 pounds!) needs to pump blood all the way up its incredibly long neck – usually over 7 feet long!
This high blood pressure forbids giraffes from becoming lightheaded. Giraffes usually require rapid head movements to eat fodder and intimidate their carnivorous predators. If their blood pressure drops, it could cause dizziness and might even lead to them losing consciousness, making them very easy prey!
To conclude, all I can say is that optimum blood pressure is essential to life. In fact, when a person dies of “shock”, a fatal drop in blood pressure is the main culprit. This is because the drop in blood pressure means an inadequate perfusion of vital organs, such as the brain and kidneys. Similarly, when blood pressure exceeds dangerous levels, it may cause these vital organs to fail—leading to the death of an individual. While we now know that some humans can survive BP as high as 300, it is essential that you see a doctor immediately if your BP crosses the 180 mark to avoid any further complications.