Of blood pressure and other medical matters

While I was living in Berlin for about ten months, I had cause to go to two German physicians — both women. Fortunately, my medical matters turned out to be minor, although my eye scare had me concerned for a while. Besides the Augenärztin (ophthalmologist), I also saw a general practitioner lady MD, to whom I was referred by an Apotheker when I had my U.S. prescription problem (a long story for later). Between the two doctors, I visited their offices over a dozen times over a period of months.

I could write a book about the entire German medical thing compared to the U.S., but the one thing I want to discuss now is Blutdruck. Not once in all my times at the doctor — not the first visit, in between, or the last — did either doctor ever measure my blood pressure. Not a single time. In the U.S., you can’t get out of a doctor’s office without this blood-pressure ritual. Even my allergist takes my blood pressure when I go in for my six-month evaluations! It is rare to have a doctor’s appointment without the nurse taking your blood pressure (and weighing you). Considering the fact that it was an Austrian (Samuel Siegfried Karl Ritter von Basch, 1837-1905) who invented the sphygmomanometer in 1881, that seems odd. (The mercury version we know today came a bit later, in 1896 in Italy.)

OK, I realize I wasn’t going in for heart issues or circulatory problems (the “German disease,” Kreislaufstörungen), but in the U.S. that wouldn’t matter, especially for a patient who’s 66. They would still take my blood pressure during a routine visit. Apparently, that is not the case in Deutschland. Or have others had different experiences? Was this just a fluke, or do German medical professionals really not care that much about a patient’s Blutdruck? It struck me as odd, so I’m just wondering “out loud.”

By the way, neither of my two German lady doctors in Berlin spoke English, but I learned some new German in the process, and I felt that I got reasonably good medical care — for a fee that was a lot less than what it would have cost in the U.S. (I was still glad I had my German medical insurance, which paid almost all of my costs.) But I just wonder about this blood pressure thing. Are the Germans too lax about that, or are we Americans too obsessed with it? Just wondering.


• Samuel von Basch, mentioned above, was the personal physician (Leibarzt) to emperor Maximilian of Mexico! After Maximilian’s execution in 1867, Basch took the body back to Austria.

• Blood pressure was first measured in animals by a British vet in 1733. Not until 1847 is there any record of the measurement of human blood pressure, and that was by a German: Carl Ludwig’s kymograph used invasive catheters to measure arterial blood pressure. Ouch!

• In 1901, the American neurosurgeon Harvey Cushing observed the use of the mercury sphygmomanometer in Italy. When he returned to the U.S. he promoted its use. And the rest is history.

MORE > Health and fitness (from the GW book)

WEB > History of blood pressure measurement (www.medphys.ucl.ac.uk)

WEB > Samuel von Basch (Deutsch, Wikipedia)

WEB > Samuel von Basch (English, Wikipedia)

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