This study explores the hypothesis that the sharper, high frequency Korotkoff sounds come from resonant motion of the arterial wall, which begins after the artery transitions from a buckled state to an expanding state. The motion of one mass, two nonlinear springs, and one damper, driven by transmural pressure under the cuff, are used to model and compute the Korotkoff sounds according to principles of classical Newtonian physics. The natural resonance of this spring-mass-damper system provides a concise, yet rigorous, explanation for the origin of Korotkoff sounds. Fundamentally, wall stretching in expansion requires more force than wall bending in buckling. At cuff pressures between systolic and diastolic arterial pressure, audible vibrations (> 40 Hz) occur during early expansion of the artery wall beyond its zero pressure radius after the outward moving mass of tissue experiences sudden deceleration, caused by the discontinuity in stiffness between bucked and expanded states. The idealized spring-mass-damper model faithfully reproduces the time domain waveforms of actual Korotkoff sounds in humans. Appearance of arterial sounds occurs at or just above the level of systolic pressure. Disappearance of arterial sounds occurs at or just above the level of diastolic pressure. Muffling of the sounds is explained by increased resistance of the artery to collapse, caused by downstream venous engorgement. A simple analytical model can define the physical origin of Korotkoff sounds, suggesting improved mechanical or electronic filters for their selective detection, and confirming the disappearance of the Korotkoff sounds as the optimal diastolic endpoint.


This is the author accepted manuscript of Babbs, CF. "The origin of Korotkoff sounds and the accuracy of auscultatory blood pressure measurements," Journal of the American Society of Hypertension : JASH 2015, 9(12):935-50.e3. Copyright Elsevier, this version is made available CC-BY-NC-ND, and the version of record is available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jash.2015.09.011.


biomechanics; brachial artery; buckling; diastolic dilemma; muffling; sphygmomanometry

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