The connection between blood pressure and heart rate is a complicated one. Often it is assumed that efforts to lower blood pressure will, in turn, decrease heart rate. Or vice versa, that a consistently high heart rate indicates high blood pressure or heart trouble on the horizon. In an interview with Dr. Cynthia Shelby-Lane, we explore this relationship between blood pressure and heart rate, learning that it is not a linear one.
An athlete’s heart
Many of us immediately think of trained athletes when discussing heart rate and blood pressure. These professional fitness elites often have both low blood pressure and a low heart rate thought to be due to their extreme level of fitness. A low heart rate is believed to indicate a heart muscle that is efficient at pumping blood throughout the body. Needing fewer total heart muscle pumps to effectively deliver the necessary amount of blood to our working bodies is obviously assumed to be ideal over rapid shallow heart muscle contractions needed to deliver the same amount of blood. As they saying goes - working smarter not harder.
The factors impacting heart rate
There are many more factors involved in our heart rate than we may realize. When asked about this connection between blood pressure and heart rate, Dr. Shelby-Lane said “blood pressure and heart rate are interrelated components of the cardiovascular system and therefore, not mutually exclusively. One can affect the other. Persons with well-controlled high blood pressure, with or without medication, can also have a cardiac arrhythmia or irregular heartbeat. This heart rhythm problem, if poorly controlled can then affect the blood pressure. Persons with low blood pressure, due to a variety of reasons, can have a normal or abnormal heart rhythm. Persons with a disorder called, Neurocardiogenic Syncope, can have low blood pressure and a low or normal heart rate, but this is positional in nature and may involve a severe hormone problem related to the adrenal glands.”
The connection is not always clear
Irregular heartbeats or cardiac arrhythmia is not an uncommon condition, affecting the heart rate and blood pressure both independently and conjunctively. Dr. Shelby-Lane further explains “this is not a straightforward answer. You can have normal blood pressure and an altered heart rate or vice versa. Heart rate and rhythm may be caused by electrical disturbances, which may or may not affect blood pressure. Again, there is no one answer and follow up with a specialist is needed since there are multiple causes for high and low blood pressure as well as heart rhythm disturbances.”
The bottom line
Monitoring your heart rate and blood pressure separately can help bring awareness to the connection and separation of the two. Following a heart-healthy lifestyle will help ensure a healthy heart in every way. Check in with your doctor if you have any concerns about your heart rate and blood pressure.
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Lisa Nelson RD, a registered dietitian since 1999, provides clients step-by-step guidance to lower cholesterol and lower blood pressure, so they can live life and enjoy their family for years to come. Because her own health is the foundation of her expertise, you can trust that Lisa will make it truly possible for you to see dramatic changes in your health, without unrealistic fads or impossibly difficult techniques. She can be found on Twitter @lisanelsonrd and Facebook at hearthealthmadeeasy.