Clinical measurement of arterial stiffness obtained from noninvasive pressure waveforms

Wilmer W Nichols
American Journal of Hypertension 2005, 18 (1): 3S-10S
Aortic pulse wave velocity (PWV) and augmentation index are independent predictors of adverse cardiovascular events, including mortality. In hypertension and aging, central elastic arteries become stiffer, diastolic pressure decreases, and central systolic and pulse pressures are augmented due to increased PWV and early return of reflected waves to the heart from the periphery. Valuable information on arterial properties such as stiffness can be obtained from both central (aortic) and peripheral (radial artery) pressure waveforms, but absolute values of wave reflection amplitude and wasted left ventricular (LV) pressure energy can only be obtained from the central arterial pressure waveform. As the arterial system becomes stiffer, there is a marked increase in central systolic and pulse pressures and wasted LV energy, along with a decrease in pulse pressure amplification. The increase in aortic systolic and pulse pressures are due primarily to increases in PWV and wave reflection amplitude with a small increase in incident wave amplitude. In individuals with very stiff elastic arteries (eg, in older persons with isolated systolic hypertension), there is a decrease in diastolic pressure. These changes in pressure components increase LV afterload and myocardial oxygen demand and therefore cause an undesirable mismatch between ventricle emptying and arterial pulse wave transmission, which promotes ventricular hypertrophy. High systolic and pulse pressures resulting from advanced age or hypertension increase circumferential arterial wall stress, which likely causes breakdown of medial elastin and increases the possibility of local fatigue, endothelial damage and development of atherosclerosis. Vasodilator drugs may have little direct effect on large central elastic arteries, but at the same time, their effects on peripheral muscular arteries reduce wave reflection amplitude and markedly lower systolic and pulse pressures and ventricular afterload. These beneficial effects on central arterial pressure can occur with or without a reduction in cuff blood pressure (BP) and may explain the apparent "pressure-independent" effects of drugs such as angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors and angiotensin receptor blockers. Therefore, optimal treatment of high BP and its complications should include consideration of arterial stiffness, augmentation of aortic pressure, and LV wasted energy, all of which should be reduced to the lowest possible level.

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