High blood pressure is a global problem that mainly affects middle aged adults and seniors. It affects almost 100 million Americans and an estimated 26% of the world’s population. Most people know that hypertension is dangerous. However, the way hypertension causes damage to the body and contributes to certain diseases is not always as well understood by the general public.
Is high blood pressure dangerous?
The effects of high blood pressure (hypertension) can vary among individuals. It depends on a host of factors, such as individual predisposition, degree of blood pressure elevation and duration of hypertension. High blood pressure is dangerous and potentially deadly. However, the more serious complications of high blood pressure may not develop overnight. Hypertension can persist for years or even decades before these complications become evident.
Not all complications of high blood pressure are dangerous or deadly. Some can be serious, like it may compromise vision or bone strength, without leading to death. However, if these non-lethal complications of hypertension arise then it is also possible that the deadly effects of high blood pressure may also develop in due course. Therefore hypertension shoudl always be treated and properly managed to prevent these complications.
Read more on high blood pressure.
Hypertension and Atherosclerosis
The persistently high blood pressure damages the inner lining of arteries. This contributes to the formation of fatty plaques in the wall of arteries, which is a process known as atherosclerosis. These plaques that narrow the arteries can rupture. A blood clot may then form at this site and completely block the artery. Blood flow is drastically reduced or stopped altogether. The tissue or organ that is supplied by this blocked artery can then be severely damaged or even die.
Hypertension and Heart Attacks
A heart attack is when a portion of the heart muscle dies. Most cases are due to coronary artery disease (CAD). The coronary arteries supply blood to the muscular heart wall. These arteries become narrowed in coronary artery disease due to atherosclerosis which in turn may be due to hypertension. Eventually the arteies can become blocked. The blockage cuts off the blood supply to the heart muscle which results in tissue death.
Hypertension and Other Heart Diseases
As arteries narrow and stiffen (atheroscleorosis), the heart has to work harder to circulate blood. The heart muscle thickens and the heart becomes enlarged. This is known as cardiomegaly. The heart is constantly strained by having to work harder. Ultimately the heart weakens and this is known as heart failure. Although the weakened heart can continue to function for long periods, it will eventually lead to death.
Hypertension and Strokes
The carotid artery carries blood to the brain. It can become narrowed with fatty plaques (atherosclerosis) which may be due to hypertension. The narrowed artery can become blocked and this starves the brain tissue of oxygen and a portion of the brain tissue may then die. This is known as a stroke. A weakened artery in the brain may also burst and this can also result in a stroke.
Hypertension and Aneurysms
The elevated blood pressure can weaken the artery wall. This may cause an abnormal ballooning or bulging of the artery wall which is known as an aneurysm. Although any artery may be affected, the aorta is the most common site for an aneurysm to occur. It can lead to a tear in the aorta wall which is known as aortic dissection. There is a risk of this tear progressing to a full rupture. Blood leaks out of the aorta and this can lead to death.
Hypertension and Leg Blood Circulation
The narrowing of arteries due to hypertension can also affect the leg arteries. Blood flow to the leg may therefore be reduced and this is known as peripheral arterial disease. Eventually this affects the leg tissue and open sores (ulcers) form in the leg. These ulcers may become infected and gangrene can develop. The affected part of the leg may then need to be amputated.
Read more on signs of hypertension.
Hypertension and Kidney Failure
High blood pressure also affects the kidneys. Since the kidneys filter blood, the elevated pressure along with stiff and narrow kidney arteries damages the kidney tissue. Eventually a signifiant amount of kidney tissue is damaged and the kidneys cannot function properly. Wastes cannot be filtered and the water volume in the body cannot be properly balanced. This is known as kidney failure.
Hypertension and Vision Problems
The light-sensitive layer of the eye (retina) and the optic nerve which carries signals from the eye to the brain are both affected by hypertension. As a result this can lead to vision problems such as blurring or even some degree of vision loss. These effects may be temporary and vision is restored once the blood pressure returns to normal. However, scar tissue may develop in the eye in long term hypertension and this may be irreversible.
Hypertension and Mental Health
As previosuly mentioned, hypertension causes narrowing of the arteries. The narrowing reduces blood supply to various organs, like the brain. With less blood and therefore less oxygen, the brain functioning is impaired. It can affect various mental functions, such as memory, decision-making, speech and vision among other faculties. The consequence is a form of dementia that is referred to as vascular dementia.
Hypertension and Bone Health
High blood pressure affets the calcium balance in the bloodstream. The body expels excess calcium in people with hypertension. Calcium is an essential component of bone. The calcium loss causes the bones to become weak and brittle. This means that the bones can fracture more easily. It is more of a problem among older women but men may also be affected in their senior years.
Hypertension and Sexual Health
Since high blood pressure causes artery narrowing, blood flow to the penis or vagina may be reduced. As a result it can affect sexual functioning both men and women. This may cause erectile dysfunction in men while women may experience problems with arousal, climax and even libido. The effects on sexual health can impact personal relationships and affect an individual’s self esteem.