What exactly is blood pressure?
Blood pressure is the driving force for blood flow (perfusion) through capillaries that supply oxygen to organs and tissue
beds of the body. Blood pressure is needed to propel blood through high resistance vascular beds, including those of the brain,
heart, lungs and kidneys. Blood pressure values are expressed in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) and as three measurements:
systolic, mean and diastolic. The systolic pressure is the pressure generated when the left ventricle is fully contracted.
Diastolic pressure is the pressure measured when the left ventricle relaxes. Mean arterial pressure (MAP) is calculated as
one third the systolic pressure plus two thirds the diastolic pressure. Mean blood pressure determines the average rate at
which blood flows through the systemic vessels. It is closer to diastolic then systolic because, during each pressure cycle,
the pressure usually remains at systolic levels for a shorter time than at diastolic levels. Most times, under anesthesia,
a patient's mean pressure is what the anesthetist focuses on. A mean arterial pressure of at least 60 mm Hg (70 in horses)
is needed to properly perfuse the heart, brain and kidneys. Mean arterial blood pressures consistently below 60 mm Hg can
lead to renal failure, decreased hepatic metabolism of drugs, worsening of hypoxemia, delayed recovery from anesthesia, neuromuscular
complications and central nervous system abnormalities, including blindness after anesthesia. Prolonged hypotension (> than
15-30 minutes) can lead to nephron damage. Although the effects may not be immediately apparent since 65-75% of nephrons need
to be damaged before renal disease becomes clinically observable, the effects may play a role in the onset of renal disease
later in a pet's life. Severe untreated hypotension can lead to cardiac and respiratory arrest. Hypertension, or excessively
high blood pressure, can lead to problems as well. Ideally, any animal under anesthesia should have should have regular blood
pressure monitoring because most anesthetic drugs affect blood pressure in some way.
Basic physiology of blood pressure
Mean arterial blood pressure = cardiac output (CO) x systemic vascular resistance (SVR). Cardiac output is defined as the
amount of blood pumped by the heart in a unit period of time. CO = Heart rate (HR) x stroke volume (SV = contractility). Systemic
vascular resistance is the amount of resistance to flow through the vessels. Some vessels may be dilated, and therefore allow
more flow at less resistance. Constriction of vessels may limit blood flow and require more pressure to get blood through.
It's important to know that many of the drugs we use for anesthesia affect one or more of these systems in some way.
Methods of measuring blood pressure
Pulse palpation: If no monitor is available, the manual palpation of an arterial pulse can give some indication of the state
of the blood pressure. A palpable pulse pressure is the difference between the systolic and diastolic pressures. A difference
of at least 30 mm Hg is necessary to palpate a strong pulse. Peripheral pulse palpation sites include the lingual, dorsal
metatarsal, carpal, auricular and coccygeal. It is best to monitor the peripheral arteries because these pulses are lost at
a much higher mean than the central (femoral) arteries. Potential cardiovascular abnormalities may be detected by regular
palpation. Pulses should be assessed for strength, rate, and regularity and palpation should begin prior to induction so that
differences in these can be tracked (monitor trends) from the very onset of anesthesia through recovery.
Capillary refill time
Blanching the mucous membranes with direct pressure should result in a refill time of less than 2 seconds. Delays in refill
time can indicate intense vasoconstriction or hypotension.
Indirect blood pressure monitoring
Oscillometric devices work by picking up pulsation under an occlusion cuff placed over an artery. The cuff is connected to
a monitor that can be programmed to measure blood pressure at specific intervals of time. These devices deliver systolic,
mean and diastolic readings as well as the heart rate. Most have alarms that can be set to alert when readings are out of
the accepted range. The cuff size should be approximately 40% of the circumference of the limb (or tail) around which it will
be placed. Cuffs that are too large will lead to artificially low readings and too small a cuff will give false high readings.
Ideally, cuffs should be placed on a limb that is close to heart level (the level of the right atrium is the zero mark for
blood pressure). Limbs well above the heart may give artificially low readings. Legs hanging well below the heart will give
false highs. The cuffs are usually marked with the proper placement over the artery. They must not be applied too tightly
as this may occlude flow and cause inaccurate readings as well as swelling distal to the cuff. Poor pulse signals from poor
flow (the rear limbs during a severe GDV or large abdominal mass), or any movement of the limb during a reading will interfere
with the device and may cause it to fail or deliver an inaccurate reading. These devices do not usually work consistently
or at all on very small patients, although there are some newer, veterinary specific monitors out that claim to work accurately
on small dogs and cats.