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High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)

Why Is It Important To Control High Blood Pressure?

Wednesday, January 21, 2015 - 15:04

Contributing Author: Guy Slowik FRCS

High blood pressure is a dangerous condition, and it should be treated appropriately. Over a period of time, once damage to the heart or other organs has begun, it is often irreversible. Uncontrolled high blood pressure damages the heart and other organs, accelerates hardening of the arteries and build-up of cholesterol-laden plaques on arterial walls, and can be lethal.

  • If your systolic blood pressure is generally greater than 160 mm Hg, your risk of suffering stroke is four times greater than normal.
  • If your diastolic blood pressure is generally greater than 95 mm Hg, your risk of developing coronary artery disease more than doubles.
  • If your overall blood pressure is generally greater than 160/95, your risk of developing congestive heart failure is four times greater than normal.

Need to Know:

High blood pressure joins smoking and high cholesterol as one of the most important risk factors for coronary artery disease. High blood pressure is the most important risk factor for stroke.

High Blood Pressure And Your Heart

In people with high blood pressure, the heart has to work harder to keep up the increased pressure in the blood vessels. This puts a strain on the heart in the long term. It can affect the heart in a number of ways, including:

  • Coronary heart disease, in which the arteries that feed the heart become narrow and clogged with fat and cholesterol deposits. People with coronary heart disease may experience angina, the chest pain or discomfort in the chest that happens when the heart doesn't receive enough oxygen, or a heart attack, in which part of the heart is deprived of oxygen and becomes damaged.

    For further information about angina or heart attack, go to Angina or Heart Attack.

  • Left ventricular hypertrophy, in which the wall of the major pumping chamber of the heart thickens as a result of the increased work by the heart. This can damage the normal functioning of the heart. People with left ventricular hypertrophy are at increased risk for stroke, heart attack, sudden death, and heart failure.
  • Congestive heart failure, which occurs when the weakened heart cannot pump enough blood to meet the body's needs. Fluid may build up in the ankles, legs, lungs, and other tissues.

    For further information about heart failure, see Heart Failure.

High Blood Pressure And Stroke

High blood pressure is one of the most important risk factors for stroke. People with high blood pressure are up to ten times more likely than people with normal blood pressure to have a stroke.

Like the heart, the brain depends on a constant supply of oxygenated blood. A stroke occurs when the brain's supply of oxygen and other nutrients is cut off. This can happen when the arteries leading to the brain become blocked (ischemic stroke) or when the artery wall tears (hemorrhagic stroke).

This "brain attack" can cause permanent or temporary damage. If the stoppage and damage is temporary, it is called a transient ischemic attack (TIA).

For more detailed information about stroke, go to Stroke.

Need to Know:

High blood pressure, especially high diastolic pressure, increases the risk of all kinds of stroke.

Other Damage Caused By High Blood Pressure

The dangers of high blood pressure are not limited to heart diseases and stroke. High blood pressure can damage other organs and cause other problems, including:

  • Kidneys - Almost one-third of all cases of kidney failure are caused by high blood pressure.
  • Bones - High blood pressure causes more calcium to be excreted in the urine, leading to a loss of bone mineral density called osteoporosisPostmenopausal women are especially affected and may be at greater risk for fractures and other problems.
  • Legs and feet - In people with high blood pressure, impaired blood flow to the legs and feet may cause a condition called peripheral vascular disease. People with peripheral vascular disease often experience leg pain, numbness, loss of leg hair, open sores on the legs, feet, and toes, and difficulty walking.
  • Eyes - High blood pressure may cause damage to blood vessels in the eyes, leading to a disease of the retina.
  • The brain - In older people, high blood pressure may cause a loss of mental function and contribute to decreased short-term memory and attention, Alzheimer's disease, and dementia, although the reasons why are not clear.
  • Sexual drive - High blood pressure is associated with sexual dysfunction in both women and men. In one study, women with high blood pressure experienced vaginal dryness and difficulty achieving sexual satisfaction. About 17 percent of men with high blood pressure experience some form of sexual dysfunction. Some medications used to treat hypertension can also impair sexual function.

Nice To Know:

Are you at risk for developing high blood pressure?

Anyone can develop high blood pressure. But experts have identified some characteristics that increase the risk. Some of these so-called "risk factors" cannot be changed, but some can. While risk factors don't necessarily cause high blood pressure, they can contribute to it or make it worse.

Your risk is greater if one or more of the following statements apply to you:

Risk factors you cannot change:

  • You have a close relative with high blood pressure, especially a brother or sister.
  • You are a male younger than 50 years of age.
  • You are a postmenopausal woman.
  • You are black.

Risk factors you can change or control:

  • You are overweight.
  • You do not exercise regularly.
  • Your diet is high in sodium.
  • You are a smoker.
  • Your cholesterol levels are high.
  • Your diet doesn't include enough calcium or potassium.
  • You have more than two or three alcoholic drinks a day.
  • You are under constant stress.
  • You have diabetes.

Need to Know:

It is important to recognize your own personal risk factors. While you cannot change some risk factors like your family history or your age, you certainly can change or control other important risk factors like your smoking habits, your weight and diet amongst others, that will effectively lower your risk of developing high blood pressure.

 

High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)