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The Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) of the human body is a marvellous logic controller maintaining all the essential life support functions below the conscious brain activity. It is connected to thousands of nerves which collect and transmit data every few milliseconds. Based on these measurements, it then issues chemical and electrical signals in order to balance all parameters like temperature, blood pressure, adrenaline levels and so on.

Many people, including myself, have been diagnosed with hypertension, meaning high blood pressure. It is usually measured while visiting a doctor and if it is on the high side, the doctor recommends daily measurements at home. As a pilot, however, I need to provide my aviation doctor with a single, once-per-15 minute analysis lasting 24 hours, based on which he then assigns medication for the next year if necessary.

But. The ANS adjusts the pressure for a multitude of reasons, while the doctor only looks at a snapshot of rudimentary measurements and then introduces medication for one year. In this case, my ANS is quite adaptive and with the last 12 blood pressure drugs, it has slowly adjusted the pressure back although the medication has continued. And then I’ve been left with the side effects only.

Having 160/90 blood pressure is certainly not healthy, but in order to better understand the causes and mechanisms, much more granular, real time and correlated measurements are required. If this was a Telecom or Smart Grid problem, I’d throw in more and more sensors, collect and analyze data until I could detect the underlying variables.

It is a harsh comparison, but from the 50s to 70s schizophrenic patients were treated with lobotomy, in which the frontal lobe of the brain was injured with a crude knife – without any true understanding on what it really caused. The current way of treating hypertension is, although luckily not as irreversible, using the same methodology.

I believe that new tiny sensors, connectivity and increasing computing power will advance medicine even more than what other fields of science have experienced during the last 10 years.


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