News / Health

Cyclical Blood Pressure Patterns Could Offer Critical Health Clues

Shelley Schlender
Cyclical patterns in our blood pressure offer clues about risks to our health, according to a medical researcher who first proposed the unorthodox idea that our bodies respond to the natural cycles of day and night, not the hours on a clock.

Although his fellow scientists scoffed at the time, 60 years later circadian rhythms, as Dr. Franz Halberg called these natural cycles, are accepted as a fundamental biological process, and their discovery made the Romanian-born physician famous.

Now, Halberg is challenging medical orthodoxy again.

At a clinic that monitors sleeping habits, Suzi Knowles’ weekly schedule includes two day shifts and two night shifts. While she loves her job, she’s often sleepy.

"The switching back and forth isn’t a good fit for anyone, I don’t think," Knowles says. "I can probably fall asleep within 20 minutes at any point.”

Franz Halberg, 93, is again challenging medical orthodoxy by suggesting that cyclical patterns in our blood pressure offer clues about risks to our health.Franz Halberg, 93, is again challenging medical orthodoxy by suggesting that cyclical patterns in our blood pressure offer clues about risks to our health.
x
Franz Halberg, 93, is again challenging medical orthodoxy by suggesting that cyclical patterns in our blood pressure offer clues about risks to our health.
Franz Halberg, 93, is again challenging medical orthodoxy by suggesting that cyclical patterns in our blood pressure offer clues about risks to our health.
Sleepiness isn’t the only hazard. According to Halberg, now a professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota, many studies indicate shift workers have a higher risk of heart disease and stroke.

Halberg says blood pressure readings could help sort out which workers are at risk and which ones are not. But he says the typical annual blood pressure reading at the doctor’s office offers too little information.

“One reading can tell you that you are still alive, and that’s a good thing to know,” Halberg says.

To know more, says the 93-year-old scientist, you need to measure more often.

Most doctors recommend measuring a healthy person’s blood pressure at least once every year or two.

Halberg checks his every 30 minutes, 24 hours a day, every single day. He says these half-hour measurements, done for at least one week, provide important information about his health, including his patterns of long-term peaks and valleys and sudden spikes that seem to correspond to strain and stress. 

But right now, doing this is not easy. Halberg’s own day-in, day-out monitoring device includes a blood pressure cuff, strapped around his upper arm and a pump in his trouser pocket to inflate the cuff for the blood pressure reading. After years of wearing the cumbersome contraption, he hardly notices it.

“I have been wearing it now for 25 years," Halberg says. "And so did [do] a number of my associates around the world.”

D.W. Wilson, of Durham University's School of Medicine, Pharmacy, and Health, is one of dozens of scientists who wear blood pressure cuffs as part of Franz Halberg’s research. (Courtesy D.W. Wilson)D.W. Wilson, of Durham University's School of Medicine, Pharmacy, and Health, is one of dozens of scientists who wear blood pressure cuffs as part of Franz Halberg’s research. (Courtesy D.W. Wilson)
x
D.W. Wilson, of Durham University's School of Medicine, Pharmacy, and Health, is one of dozens of scientists who wear blood pressure cuffs as part of Franz Halberg’s research. (Courtesy D.W. Wilson)
D.W. Wilson, of Durham University's School of Medicine, Pharmacy, and Health, is one of dozens of scientists who wear blood pressure cuffs as part of Franz Halberg’s research. (Courtesy D.W. Wilson)
Dozens of scientists have sent Halberg a week’s worth of their blood pressure readings, measured every half hour. Some have done this for decades. One for nearly 50 years.

“A distinguished senior professor writes that when he doesn’t have the cuff, he feels naked,” Halberg says.

Halberg calls these researchers test pilots, discovering what long-term monitoring can reveal about health and natural rhythms that range from a few minutes, to months, to decades.

This can be especially important, he says, for people who work shifts that require them to be awake and alert at night.

People like radio announcer Len Houle who has regular hours most of the week, but on Fridays leaves for work at four in the morning.

“It kind of wipes me out a little bit. I’m kind of wasted.” But even worse, he says, was when he was on call at night to provide computer support. “I was usually woken up in the middle of the night, signing onto a computer, and fixing a problem, and then required to go back to bed, which really didn’t work.”

Many shift workers say that it’s easier when they have a consistent schedule so for 10 years, bartender Molly Savory’s been working past midnight, then sleeping late the next morning.

“I’m a night person," she says. "I like to work into the evening hours.” 

According to University of Colorado math professor Homer Ellis, he’s done research all night and slept until almost noon for more than 30 years. He feels working a typical 9-to-5 day shift would mess him up.

“I wouldn’t do very well," Ellis says. "No. My schedule fits me.”

But according to Ken Wright, director of a University of Colorado Sleep Lab, feeling good about an unusual shift doesn’t guarantee that it’s healthy.

“We truly don’t understand what makes one person more vulnerable for one negative health outcome versus another," Wright says, "and that’s really a hot area of research that we’re trying to understand.”

Wright says that Franz Halberg has contributed tremendously to understanding the connections between body rhythms and diseases, ranging from heart attack and stroke to diabetes, obesity and cancer.

And while Wright prefers to measure things like blood hormone levels and brain wave patterns, he concedes that more frequent blood pressure tests and closer analysis of the readings could lead to new discoveries.

“I think the science has to drive the questions," Wright says. "But the tools allow us to ask questions.”

Back in Minnesota, Halberg says that one answer is ready and waiting.

“Blood pressure is a life-long [stress] test," he says. "It tells you when you are unhappy, but it also tells you when you are at the risk of heart disease.”

In time, Halberg says, blood pressure monitors will be as cheap and as small as a wristwatch. When that day comes, he says long-term monitoring will be commonplace, and health throughout the world will benefit.

You May Like

Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Seen as a potential driver of recovery, Cairo’s plan to expand waterway had been raising hopes to give country much needed economic boost More

Ebola Maternity Ward in Sierra Leone First of its Kind

Country already had one of world's highest maternal mortality rates before Ebola arrived, virus has added even more complications to health care More

Malaysia Flight 370 Disappearance Ruled Accident

Aircraft disappeared on March 8, 2014; with ruling, families of 239 passengers and crew can now seek compensation from airline More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Groundbreaking Hand-Painted Documentary About Van Gogh in Productioni
X
George Putic
January 29, 2015 9:43 PM
The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Groundbreaking Hand-Painted Documentary About Van Gogh in Production

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Super Bowl Ads Compete for Eyes on TV, Web

Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 1) is about more than just the NFL's American football championship and big parties to watch the game. Viewers also tune in for the world famous commercials that send Facebook and Twitter abuzz. Daniela Schrier reports on the social media rewards for America’s priciest advertising.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Freedom on Decline Worldwide, Report Says

The state of global freedom declined for the ninth consecutive year in 2014, according to global watchdog Freedom House's annual report released Wednesday. VOA's William Gallo has more.
Video

Video MRI Seems to Help Diagnose Prostate Cancer, Preliminary Study Shows

Just as with mammography used to detect breast cancer, there's a lot of controversy about tests used to diagnose prostate cancer. Fortunately, a new study shows doctors may now have a more reliable way to diagnose prostate cancer for high risk patients. More from VOA's Carol Pearson.
Video

Video Smartphones About to Make Leap, Carry Basic Senses

Long-distance communication contains mostly sounds and pictures - for now. But scientists in Britain say they are close to creating additions for our smartphones that will make it possible to send taste, smell and even a basic touch. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.
Video

Video Crowded Republican Presidential Field Off to Early Start for 2016

It seems early, but the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign is already heating up. Though no one has officially announced a candidacy, several potential Republican contenders have been busy speaking to conservative groups about making a White House run next year. Many of the possible contenders are critical of the Obama administration’s foreign policy record. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid