High blood pressure (hypertension) affects nearly half of all Americans, contributing to almost half a million deaths per year. Signs of hypertension can go undetected, which is why the condition is often called the silent killer.
Understanding the dangers of high blood pressure is important. Do you suffer from hypertension? There are lifestyle changes and medications that can help.
Keep reading for information about the dangers of high blood pressure and what you can do about them.
What Is Hypertension?
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is when the force of blood flowing through your arteries is too high. Normal, healthy blood flows freely through smooth, strong, and flexible artery walls.
These smooth arteries allow easy blood flow, supplying plenty of oxygen and nutrients to vital organs and tissues. The heart has to pump harder to send blood through damaged arteries, creating rising pressure against artery walls.
What Causes Hypertension?
There isn’t a known single cause of hypertension, but there are many known contributing factors. Some of these risk factors include:
- Sedentary lifestyle
- High dietary salt intake
- High alcohol intake
- Old age
Not all risk factors are within your control, but many are. If you smoke, hypertension is one of the many reasons you should quit.
Symptoms of High Blood Pressure
Most people don’t exhibit symptoms of hypertension until the disease reaches life-threatening levels. Some possible symptoms are:
- Shortness of breath
Such vague symptoms don’t usually trigger a doctor’s visit. That’s one reason an annual exam with a blood pressure check is a good idea.
The Dangers of High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure affects many different organ systems in the body. From your brain to your heart, nothing works well if your blood pressure is high.
Normal blood pressure is about 120/80. High blood pressure is anything higher than 130 for the top (systolic) number and 80 for the bottom (diastolic) number.
High blood pressure damages your heart. Over time, high blood pressure narrows the arteries supplying blood to your heart. This causes irregular heart rhythms, chest pain, and even heart attacks.
Narrowed arteries cause more work for your heart. As the heart works harder to pump blood, the left side thickens and enlarges. This increases your risk of heart failure, heart attack, and sudden death.
Damaged arteries lead to more damage as fat in the bloodstream collects along the damaged artery walls. This leads to further narrowing of the arteries and increasingly higher blood pressure.
The damaged arteries limit blood flow, which means your body doesn’t get the oxygen and nutrients it needs for proper functioning. Weakened artery walls are also more prone to bulge. A bulge in the artery wall is an aneurysm.
A ruptured aneurysm causes internal bleeding and is life-threatening. Aneurysms happen most often in the aorta.
Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA) is a type of mini-stroke. A TIA comes from a momentary disruption of the blood supply to your brain. TIAs happen due to damaged arteries from high blood pressure.
TIAs aren’t usually fatal but they’re a warning that you’re at risk for a stroke. If disruption of blood to the brain deprives the brain of oxygen and nutrients for long enough, brain cells die. This can cause a stroke.
A stroke isn’t always fatal but it can be. Strokes can also cause permanent disabilities.
Most people think of dementia as a disease that only strikes in old age. Prolonged hypertension can also cause a type of dementia as well as mild cognitive impairment.
There are tiny blood vessels supplying blood, oxygen, and nutrients to your eyes. High blood pressure damages these blood vessels. Retinopathy is a possible side effect of high blood pressure.
Retinopathy is damage to the retina that can cause bleeding in the eye. This can cause blurry vision and even blindness.
High blood pressure also puts you at risk for choroidopathy, which is a buildup of fluid under the retina. This also causes vision impairment.
Optic neuropathy is damage to the optic nerve resulting from restricted blood flow. This is another condition that damages your vision.
Your kidneys work hard filtering out waste and fluid from your bloodstream. Damaged blood vessels from high blood pressure lead to scarring and the kidneys can’t do their job as well.
This scarring, known as glomerulosclerosis, can lead to kidney failure. Kidney failure is when your kidneys can’t eliminate the waste and toxins from your body.
As a result of kidney failure, toxins accumulate to dangerous levels. At this point, you’ll need hemodialysis or a kidney transplant.
When a man can’t have or maintain an erection, that’s erectile dysfunction. This is a common side effect of high blood pressure since it limits or blocks blood flow to the penis.
High blood pressure in women can also cause sexual problems such as a decreased ability to reach orgasm. It can also cause decreased desire and an increase in vaginal dryness.
Medications and Lifestyle Choices
Medications such as Cozaar can help reduce your blood pressure. There are many medication choices for patients with high blood pressure. You’ll need a doctor’s prescription for any type of blood pressure medication.
Lifestyle choices are a big driver of high blood pressure. Quit smoking and get plenty of exercise. Eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables and low in processed foods and unhealthy fats, such as trans fats.
If you’re overweight, losing weight can significantly reduce your blood pressure. You should also limit your salt intake.
Do you drink alcohol? You should either quit drinking or reduce your intake to a moderate level.
Limit the Dangers of High Blood Pressure
You can limit the dangers of high blood pressure through medication and lifestyle changes. High blood pressure increases your chance of heart attack, stroke, dementia, and other medical problems, so don’t let your blood pressure get out of control.
Visit your doctor yearly for a checkup and know your blood pressure levels. You can buy a home monitor if necessary.
Did your doctor prescribe blood pressure medication? Always take it as per the instructions.
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