High blood pressure occurs when blood constantly pushes against the walls of your arteries with too much force. Your blood pressure is high when your pressure reading is consistently higher than 140/90 mm Hg (millimeters of mercury). If you have high blood pressure, you’re not alone. About 1 in 3 adults in the United States has it. But having high blood pressure can lead to other serious health issues. Here are a few of the dangers of high blood pressure.
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People with high blood pressure are more likely to have a heart attack than people who don't have it. Over time, high blood pressure can cause scarring on artery walls. These scars can fill up with plaque. The arteries become narrow. That blocks blood flow. If enough blood is blocked, a heart attack occurs, which may cause parts of the heart muscle to die. About 70% of people experiencing their first heart attack have high blood pressure.
Arteries scarred by high blood pressure are often narrower than normal. This can cause blood cells to stick together and form a clot. Clots can block blood from flowing to parts of the body that need it. A clot that blocks blood flow to the brain can cause a stroke. A blood clot that blocks blood flow to the heart can cause a heart attack.
High blood pressure can harm blood vessels in the kidneys too. If enough damage occurs, the kidneys can't work like they should. That means they can't help get rid of extra fluid and waste from the body. The buildup of extra fluid can cause even higher blood pressure, creating a dangerous cycle. Over time, the kidneys may stop working completely. That's called kidney failure. In the United States, high blood pressure is the second most common cause of kidney failure.
A stroke occurs when the blood supply to the brain is blocked. A blood clot can cause this. So can a burst blood vessel. Blood vessels that are weakened by the force of high blood pressure are more likely to leak, burst or become clogged. The lack of blood and oxygen from a stroke can cause brain damage and disability. This can include paralysis, speech problems, memory loss, and more.
Some women who have never had high blood pressure get it when they are pregnant. Doctors call this pregnancy-induced hypertension. It usually goes away after the pregnancy. But high blood pressure during pregnancy should be treated. High blood pressure can harm the mother’s body and can also affect the baby. The baby might weigh less than it should at birth or be born early. Stillbirths also are possible because of high blood pressure during pregnancy.