What is blood pressure?

          The heart is a vital organ that pumps blood to different parts of the body. The outflow of the blood takes place when the heart’s left ventricle contracts. Then blood is forced into the arteries which expand to receive blood. These arteries have a muscular lining which resists this pressure. Thus blood is squeezed out of them into the smaller vessels of the body. By blood pressure we mean the amount of pressure that blood exerts on the walls of the arteries. The amount of pressure depends upon the strength of the heart muscle, the amount of blood in the circulatory system and the condition of the arteries. 

          There are two kinds of pressures – systolic and diastolic. Systolic is the maximum pressure that occurs when the left ventricle contracts. Diastolic is the minimum pressure that occurs just before the heartbeat which follows.

          When a doctor measures blood pressure, he uses an instrument in which a column of mercury rises or falls under the pressure. It is marked in millimeters. The average systolic pressure in a young man is about 120 mm of mercury and the diastolic pressure is about 80. These figures are usually stated as 120/80 or 120 over 80.

          Blood pressure usually rises with age because the arteries become less flexible. Anxiety or exercise may also cause pressure to rise temporarily. It is also increased by a number of diseases. A. person is said to have high blood pressure or hypertension if it exceeds the figure of 100 plus his age or if the diastolic pressure exceeds 100. High blood pressure can cause heart failure, apoplexy, or kidney diseases. It may also burst a blood vessel in the eye or the brain, thus causing blindness or a hemorrhage. Symptoms of high blood pressure are headaches, hot flashes and anger.

          Abnormally low blood pressure occurs when a person has a heart attack or loses large amount of blood because of some injury etc. When the blood pressure falls considerably, the oxygen supply to the brain and other parts also gets reduced. This can cause death. Physicians use drugs which contract the muscular walls of the blood vessels to raise the blood pressure.

          Abnormal high blood pressure may be due to the constriction of arteries or due to damage to one or both kidneys. Excessive weight and lack of exercise can also contribute to hypertension. Temporary high blood pressure can be due to excitement or emotional stresses.


Why do some people have a squint?

          A squint is a physical defect in which both eyes do not point in the same direction. This is also called strabismus or heterotropia – a disorder of the eye in which the alignment of the two ocular axes is not parallel.

          A person with this defect may have an inward squint (one eye may be directed towards the other eye), an upward or a downward squint. The squint is called ‘comitant’ if the deviation remains constant no matter in what direction the gaze is directed. It is called ‘noncomitant’ if the degree of misalignment varies with the direction of the gaze.

          Long-sightedness in children often causes an inward squint. On the other hand short-sightedness may produce an upward squint. If one or more of these muscles are paralyzed, the noncomitant squint occurs. 

          A squint is most often the result of some abnormality in the nervous controls. Acquired squints are usually due to nerve or muscle disease and cause double vision. In fact, the movement of the eye balls depends upon the action of six muscles – four of which are straight and two slanting. If the nerves of these eye muscles have developed some defect, the eye can develop a squint.

         With the progress in medical sciences now it has become possible to treat this defect. But it must be done at an early stage by wearing special glasses. These have a dark glass to cover the good eye to stop it from being used. This prevents the bad eye from becoming worse.

         Squint can also be treated by some orthoptic exercise which helps to strengthen the eye muscles. In some cases, an operation is necessary to strengthen a weak eye muscle or to weaken an extra strong one. The good eye is covered for some period before the correctional surgery. This is to enable the patient to use the previously unused eye and build up its vision.

          An interesting observation about squint-eyed people is that it is often difficult to judge the direction in which they look. 

What is the Iron-lung machine?

          The iron-lung machine was one of the earliest life-saving machines. It was invented by Philip Drinker of Harvard, U.S.A in 1929. This device is meant to aid those who have difficulty in breathing, either due to a paralysis of chest muscles or due to some disease or an accident.

         This machine has an air-tight chamber on wheels. The patient lies on a foam-rubber bed with an adjustable head and foot rests. It is operated by electricity, but has a safety device which gives a warning signal in the vent of power failure. The machine can then be operated by hand. It has a cover which can be opened to give access to the patient. The patient’s head is usually enclosed in a plastic dome.

          The machine helps in breathing by alternately reducing and increasing the air pressure around the patient’s body. When the pressure is reduced, his chest expands and air comes into his lungs through the normal air passages, as his head remains outside the machine. When the pressure is increased, the chest contracts and air is automatically expelled from the lungs.

          During a heart operation, a heart-lung machine is used. This takes over the function of the heart and lungs and the surgeon can perform the surgery safely. The technical name for this machine is the cardiopulmonary bypass machine, since it takes over the job of both heart and lungs. Blood returning along veins, from the body’s organs to the heart, is led out of the body along a tube to a gas exchange unit. Here carbon dioxide is removed from the blood and oxygen is added – thus doing the lung’s job. The blood then flows through a rotary pump which does the heart’s job and back into the main arteries. This is a very important device during heart surgery. 

What causes asthma?

          Asthma is a chronic disease of the lungs in which a person has sudden attacks of shortness of breath, wheezing and coughing. It is one of the most common diseases affecting respiration. It affects all races and both sexes equally. It usually begins in childhood or early adult life.

          Asthma is caused by a blocking of the bronchial tubes in the lungs. This blocking is caused by shrinking of the bronchial muscles, swelling of membranes lining these muscles and the presence of thick mucus called phlegm.

          Allergic bronchial asthma is the most common type of the disease. It is caused by adverse reaction to things like house dust, pollen, feathers, animal dandruff, drugs and certain foods. Strong odours or smoke may also cause its attacks. Asthma is often linked with however, another type of allergy. Different kinds of asthma may even harm other parts of the body. 

          Asthma attacks often occur after heavy physical work or in case of emotional disturbance. An infection of the nose and throat can trigger off an attack. A drastic change in the weather may also prove troublesome in this regard. Exposure to sudden changes in temperature and humidity or both may also cause an attack. Common symptoms of asthma are wheezing, a sense of suffocation, dry cough and an inability to expel air easily from the lungs.

          Asthmatic attacks usually last for half an hour to several hours. Prolonged or frequent attacks may prove dangerous if the patient is weak or suffers from malnutrition. Some 35-40 percent of childhood asthma cases improve at puberty.

           A physician identifies asthma by physical examination and allergy skin tests. From these tests, the substance to which the patient is allergic can be detected. Most doctors usually prescribe drugs such as epinephrine or ephedrine to treat it in the initial stages. Patients with very serious cases of asthma however may need to take ACTH or cortisone. Some doctors prescribe small doses or injections of asthma-causing substances. And they slowly increase the strength of these injections until the patient’s body develops a natural resistance to the allergic substances. Sometimes oxygen becomes essential for such a patient. To avoid asthma attacks one should avoid substances to which one is allergic and the situations that precipitate attacks.


What is physiotherapy?

          Physiotherapy is that branch of medicine which makes use of some physical agents or exercises to treat a disease or an injury. It is also called physical therapy. More strictly it is a branch of rehabilitation medicine. Doctors who specialize in this branch of medicine are called physiotherapists.

          Physiotherapy is helpful in treating many kinds of disabilities and diseases. It is often used to treat paralysis and muscle weaknesses, such as caused by poliomyelitis and multiple sclerosis. It is also used in treating heart and lung diseases. It can also be used as a treatment aid for amputations, fractures and other injuries. With the help of this treatment, the disabled person may lead a constructive and creative life.

          Many kinds of devices and treatments are used in physiotherapy. Radiant heat lamps are used for warming up the body to remove the pains in the backbone. Electric heating pads, diathermy, hydrotherapy (water treatment) and special baths are used to apply heat to the diseases or damaged parts of the body.

           Warming up of the body relieves the pain and improves the blood circulation in the body. Soon after certain injuries cooling methods are also used to reduce pain and swelling. Ultraviolet lamps are used to kill certain germs and to help healing because ultraviolet light has more energy and can destroy germs. Ultrasonic waves are used to treat inflammatory conditions of muscles and joints.

           Exercise is the most important part of physiotherapy. In fact, a layman believes that physiotherapy is concerned only with different kinds of physical exercises. However, the physiotherapists make use of various equipments such as pulleys, weights, parallel bars, stationary bicycles and dumb bells. Splints, braces, crutches and wheel chairs are also used to help disabled persons. Physiotherapists help people learn how to use these devices and develop confidence in doing daily tasks.

           Physiotherapists work in clinics, hospitals and schools for the handicapped. Nowadays the use of physiotherapy is constantly increasing.