A recent study published in The Journal of Physiology explores the effects of high blood pressure on vital organs and tissues by examining the way the body responds when there is lack of oxygen.
Reduced oxygen pressure in the air as in places of high altitude causes hypoxia which means, deficiency of oxygen in the blood. When a healthy person has hypoxia due to high altitude or when the upper airway is blocked during sleep (sleep apnea), the body increases blood flow, sending oxygen to vital organs and tissues such as the brain and muscles. This protects these organs and tissues.
To understand how high blood pressure impacts these compensatory responses to hypoxia, the study conducted by researches from the Fluminense Federal University, Brazil and The University of Copenhagen, Denmark, involved measuring the blood flow to the brain and the leg muscles whilst middle-aged men with normal and high blood pressure inhaled air with a low oxygen concentration for 5 minutes.
Importantly, this study only offers insights into the disturbances caused by high blood pressure during a short-term exposure (5 minutes) to low oxygen concentrations in a controlled environment (i.e. carbon dioxide concentration was kept constant and blood pressure to hypoxia did not change). Looking into these responses during a longer exposure to hypoxia in daily life situations such as high altitude exposure or sleep apnoea is also necessary to confirm these findings.
Dr Igor A Fernandes, the lead investigator of the project, also highlights the importance to understand the mechanisms that maintain brain and skeletal muscle oxygen supply of healthy individuals in hypoxic conditions and how high blood pressure affects them:
"We are interested in determining how high blood pressure impacts the mechanisms by which hypoxia increases brain and skeletal muscle blood supply and oxygen delivery. This will enable us to investigate how to prevent their deterioration or restore their adequate functioning."