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Last Updated on May 12, 2023


Ever wonder what exactly blood pressure means? Or physiologically speaking, how does the blood generate pressure? What causes it to develop, and what should we do to prevent it from rising? Put simply, there are several causative factors affecting the cardiac output and blood pressure within the vasculature. The key to the crux lies in this blog, covering every aspect of systemic vascular resistance, the primary culprit behind high blood pressure, and an understanding of what is systemic vascular resistance. Continue reading the blog to learn about effective treatment options for correcting abnormally high and low SVR.

In addition to standard medications, participation in cardiology clinical study trials investigating novel and effective alternatives for the management of vascular resistance might be an option most people don’t think of.

 What is Systemic Vascular Resistance?

Systemic vascular resistance refers to resistance to the blood flow offered by the arteries and arterioles during its passage from the left ventricle before it enters systemic circulation. It includes all the blood vessels involved in systemic circulation except those in the lungs.

However, SVR is regulated by factors such as:

  • Diameter and length of the blood vessels
  • The viscosity of the blood
  • Contractility of the heart

Other factors include:

  • Cardiac output
  • Hormonal influence
  • Neurotransmitters

Moreover, the blood volume ejected from the left ventricle reflects changes in the SVR caused by vasoconstriction. For example, increased narrowing and constriction of the arterioles manifests in 3 ways:

  • Increased SVR.
  • Diminished ventricular compliance.
  • Reduced stroke volume.
  • Decrease in cardiac output.

In a resting state, about 5 liters of the cardiac output moves from the left ventricle to the systemic circulation every minute. Listed below is the normal distributive pattern of blood volume the major organ systems of the body receive:

  • Brain – 13%
  • GIT – 27%
  • Renal system – 20%
  • Musculature – 15%
  • Skin – 9%
  • Bones – 5%
  • Others – 8%

Interlink between Cardiac Output and Systemic Vascular Resistance

In a state of increased physical activity or cardiac dysfunction affecting systemic vascular resistance, the blood flow adjusts according to the body’s needs. For example, with an increase in systemic vascular resistance, the cardiac output diminishes, reducing the amount of blood flow to the organs, thus producing clinically significant signs and symptoms, including:

  • Systolic blood pressure < 90 mm Hg
  • Low blood pressure
  • Weak pulse
  • Cool extremities
  • Decreased urinary output
  • Altered mental status or confusion
  • Breathlessness
  • Arrhythmia
  • Fatigue or lack of energy
  • Chest pain
  • Swelling or edema in legs, feet, or ankles
  • Shock

Cardiogenic shock (a consequence of decreased cardiac output) is a state of shock in which the heart does not supply a sufficient amount of oxygenated blood to the vital organs inside the body necessary for survival. It is evident in a cardiac index below 1.8 L/min/m2.

Calculating Systemic Vascular Resistance

 The range of systemic vascular resistance varies, depending on the method used to measure it, influenced by the age or health of the individuals, and other factors. Generally, the normal range of SVR in adults lies between 700 – 1500 dynes/sec/cm.

A standard formula to calculate SVR is to subtract the right atrial pressure (RAP) from the mean arterial pressure (MAP), divided by the cardiac output, and multiply by 80.

What causes Systemic Vascular Resistance (SVR)?

Several medical conditions may cause an increase or decrease in systemic vascular resistance. Some of these conditions include:

  1. Hypertension:

Hypertension is a chronic disease that increases vascular resistance by narrowing the blood vessels. When the blood vessels constrict, this makes it harder for the blood to flow through them, thereby generating high SVR.

  1. Atherosclerosis:

This is a condition that involves plaque buildup inside the arteries, making them narrower and stiffer. This results in an increase in 22. and an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

  1. Diabetes:

People with diabetes, a common endocrine condition, are at an increased risk of developing atherosclerosis, which increases systemic vascular resistance.

  1. Raynaud’s disease:

A condition narrowing or constricting the blood vessels inside the fingers and toes in response to cold or stress. This, however, results in increased systemic vascular resistance in these areas.

  1. Peripheral artery disease:

This is a condition causing the narrowing of the blood vessels in the lower extremities and an increase in systemic vascular resistance. It reduces the amount of blood flow to the legs.

  1. Pulmonary hypertension:

It is a type of high blood pressure affecting the blood vessels in the lungs, increasing vascular resistance, and making it harder for the heart to pump blood through the lungs.

  1. Polycythemia (increased red cell count):

This condition involves an abnormally high number of red cells in the blood. An increase in cell count increases the viscosity, making it difficult for the blood to flow through blood vessels, leading to an increase in SVR.

  1. Anemia:

Anemia with reduced red cell count dilates the blood vessels and lowers the blood pressure. This results in a decrease in systemic vascular resistance.

  1. Sepsis:

One of the effects of sepsis is a widespread inflammatory response throughout the body that constricts or dilates the blood vessels. This results in an increase or decrease in the systemic inflammatory response.

Treatment Options Available

The treatment for SVR depends on the underlying condition causing the increase in resistance.

In case of increased systemic vascular resistance (SVR) due to hypertension:

  • Adapting certain lifestyle modifications, such as maintaining a healthy weight, regular exercise, and a low-sodium diet is suggested.
  • Medications such as angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs), beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers, and diuretics are prescribed to control blood pressure.

To reduce fluid overload and improve cardiac function:

Medications such as ACE inhibitors, ARBs, beta-blockers, and diuretics are prescribed to reduce the risk of heart failure.

To relax the blood vessels and reduce (SVR):

Vasodilator medications such as nitroglycerin, hydralazine, or nifedipine are prescribed.

To open blocked blood vessels or correct structural abnormalities:

Surgical intervention such as balloon angioplasty or stenting is necessary.


The outlook for what is systemic vascular resistance and how to manage it depends on the underlying cause and changes produced by systemic vascular resistance. If SVR remains elevated for a long period, it can put a strain on the heart and lead to cardiovascular complications such as heart failure, stroke, or shock. To improve heart outcomes, clinical research organizations are working tirelessly, investigating novel potential options for treating vulnerable heart conditions.

Dr. Unzila Nadeem

Dr. Unzila Nadeem currently works as a Patient Recruitment Associate. With her combined experience as a dentist and her firm grip on research processes, she makes a valuable addition to our Patient Recruitment team.

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