High blood pressure, or hypertension, is the most common cardiovascular problem globally. You may have it for years or even decades before it kills you. That is the truth high blood pressure – it is deadly. In rare instances it can even kill you within weeks or months. But how does high blood pressure kill ? And how can you spot the deadly symptoms? The fact is that high blood pressure is often silent, meaning that a person does not show any signs or symptoms in most people. For this reason hypertension is labeled the ‘silent killer’.
On the other hand, the deadly complications of high blood pressure are usually not as silent . If you are observant, you may be able to detect the first symptoms of these killer diseases and seek treatment as soon as possible. But never wait for these deadly symptoms to become evident. Always screen for high blood pressure, irrespective of your age, body weight, lifestyle factors and family history. These days hypertension is being seeing in younger age groups and it is not unheard of for a person in their twenties to have hypertension.
How high blood pressure kills?
Hypertension is where the systolic blood pressure exceeds 140mmHg and the diastolic pressure is over 90mmHg. In most instances it is not the high blood pressure itself that kills you but the consequences of having prolonged blood pressure. Extremely high blood pressure can be fatal within a very short period of time. But in most instances the damage that is caused occurs gradually over years or decades.
Although high blood pressure can affect many different organs including the kidneys and eyes, it is the damage to the blood vessels, heart and the brain that eventually leads to death. The blood vessels, and especially the arteries, can withstand a significantly raised pressure. However, it cannot sustain the force indefinitely. Gradually it damages the blood pressure wall.
A fatty plaque known as an atheroma can develop in the wall thereby narrowing the artery. Should a blood clot arise, the artery becomes completely blocked and the organ it supplies is severely damaged. This is the main way that high blood pressure damages organs. However, the artery wall can weaken and balloon. This is known as an aneurysm. Eventually this ballooning may rupture and can be deadly.
Organ Damage with Hypertension
Death due to hypertension is more likely to occur when the arteries, heart or brain is damaged. There may be several diseases that occur in the organs which signal damage due to hypertension.
- Arteries :
- Heart :
– Heart attack
– Heart failure
- Brain :
– Cerebral aneurysm
Not all of the above conditions may be deadly in every instance. However, identifying the symptoms of these diseases can help warn you that more deadly organ damage may occur at any time.
Hypertension and Artery Symptoms
High blood pressure can cause the artery to narrow or balloon. The symptoms of these effects can vary depending on where the narrowing or ballooning (aneurysm) occurs. A narrowed artery is more likely to cause symptoms than an aneurysm.
Atherosclerosis is a build up of fatty plaques in the artery wall. It is the main cause of arterial narrowing. Symptoms of a narrowed artery that supplies blood to the heart or brain are more likely to be fatal. It has been discussed under a heart attack and stroke respectively. However, narrowing of the arteries may also be easily identifiable when it affects legs. This is known as peripheral arterial disease. Although it is not fatal, it is worth knowing the symptoms, which includes:
- Leg pain, initially only when walking or climbing, but eventually even at rest.
- Tingling and numbness of the legs.
- Weakness of the leg muscles.
- Cold toes and feet.
- Hair loss on the legs and slow growing toenails.
- Open sores (leg ulcers).
- Weak or absent pulse on the leg or feet.
An aneurysm is a ballooning that occurs with weakening of the arterial wall. Normally it is asymptomatic. It can occur in any artery but is more likely to cause death when it affects the aorta, neck artery or arteries at the base of the brain. Symptoms are usually only seen with a rupture or if there is slight leaking from the aneurysm. The symptoms can vary depending on the location but pain is usually present. For example a severe headache may occur if a brain aneurysm leaks or ruptures. Massive loss of blood from a ruptured aneurysm anywhere in the body can lead to death.
Hypertension and Heart Symptoms
The symptoms of most heart diseases can overlap.
- A heart attack most often arises with coronary artery disease where the arteries supplying the heart with blood becomes narrowed. Eventually the a portion of the heart muscle dies. It may not always be deadly but if you survive, you are at risk of heart failure unless there is prompt treatment.
- Heart failure is when the heart is weakened usually due to being overworked for long periods of with damage to the heart wall like with a heart attack. Eventually the heart function is compromised to such an extent that it can stop working altogether.
- Cardiomegaly is a condition where the heart enlarges as a result of being overworked. It can contribute to a heart attack or heart failure, both of which can be fatal. Sudden cardiac death is another possibility.
Contrary to popular belief, a heart attack is not the typical ‘chest grabbing’ event that is portrayed in media. In fact most are silent heart attacks. Heart failure is very gradual in most instances and the symptoms are not often associated with a cardiac problem until the condition is diagnosed by a doctor. Cardiomegaly may also be asymptomatic or like heart failure it may cause vague symptoms that do not seem to be linked to a cardiac conditions.
Some symptoms that you need to be aware of includes:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Swelling of the legs and/or abdomen
- Abnormal heart rhythm
- Excessive fatigue
- Fluid in the lungs (pleural effusion)
Hypertension and Brain Symptoms
By narrowing or an aneurysm of the arteries supplying the brain, hypertension can eventually lead to death of brain tissue. Depending on how severe it is, it may be fatal. The brain is the most oxygen-sensitive organ in the body. Disruption of the blood supply for a few seconds will lead to fainting and after a couple of minutes there may be permanent brain damage.
A brain stroke is the sudden death of brain cells due when the blood supply is interrupted. A ruptured cerebral aneurysm also results in death of the brain tissue as blood compresses the brain and hampers the normal blood supply. Symptoms may include:
- Lightheadedness and dizziness
- Visual disturbances like blurred or double vision
- Weakness or paralysis usually one-sided
- Numbness on one side of the body
- Nausea and vomiting
- Confusion and disorientation
- Severe headache
- Light sensitity
- Neck stiffness