You know high blood pressure is not good for your health, but do you know why? When your blood is pushing too hard against your arteries, it can cause an array of problems that can damage the entire circulatory system. Take a look at the complications of high blood pressure, also called hypertension. Some of them may surprise you.
When your blood moves through your body with too much force, it can create small tears in the blood vessels that form scar tissue, which can catch debris like fat and cholesterol. Those trapped particles form clusters called “plaques” that hinder the easy flow of blood. A heart attack is the result of a blocked blood supply to the heart muscle tissue, and is often caused by high blood pressure.
High blood pressure is a major risk factor for stroke, because it can cause blockages in blood vessels that lead to the brain and in the brain itself. If a clot blocks a blood vessel, or if one bursts, that is a stroke. Strokes can be devastating because brain tissue no longer receives vital nutrients and oxygen to the affected area, which begins to die.
When high blood pressure creates weak spots in arteries, the areas may fill up with blood and balloon out from the artery wall, which is called an aneurysm. Aneurysms tend to enlarge slowly and become weaker as they grow. If undiagnosed or untreated, they can cause a serious form of stroke called a hemorrhagic stroke, which bleeds into the brain and can be life-threatening.
Heart failure does not mean that your heart stops working, but rather that your heart is not supplying sufficient blood flow to the rest of the body. Heart muscle may thicken as a result of high blood pressure, and your heart can become enlarged, so that it has to work harder to pump blood—that’s heart failure. Proper treatment may help make your heart grow stronger and improve pumping efficiency.
High blood pressure is the second leading cause of kidney failure in the United States, after diabetes. When blood vessels in the kidneys become weakened and narrow because of damage from high blood pressure, it’s harder for the kidneys to do their job. They may be unable to remove waste and fluid from the body efficiently or at all. The extra fluid may then raise blood pressure even more, creating a dangerous cycle.
High blood pressure can damage the delicate blood vessels in your eyes, reducing blood flow through them and even leading to ruptures. This is called hypertensive retinopathy, which can cause bleeding in the eye, blurred vision or blindness. High blood pressure can also cause fluid to build up within your retina that can distort or impair your vision or damage the optic nerve, which can also cause vision loss.
The plaque that builds up from high blood pressure can reduce the blood flow to the arteries in your legs, which can cause pain, cramping, numbness, or heaviness in the legs, feet, and buttocks after mild activity. Peripheral artery disease tends to go undiagnosed because people think it is a normal sign of aging, but it puts you at a higher risk of stroke or heart attack and can also lead to gangrene and amputation. Treatment includes lifestyle changes, medicine and sometimes surgery.
High blood pressure is one of the traits that can lead to a diagnosis of metabolic syndrome, a group of factors that indicate you are more likely to develop diabetes or have a heart disease or stroke. About one in three adults in the U.S. has metabolic syndrome, which can be addressed by lifestyle changes and medication.
People who have high blood pressure are more likely to have cognitive impairment, which means their ability think, learn and recall things is reduced. Some studies show that people who have high blood pressure when they are middle-aged have a higher risk of developing dementia as they grow older. There is evidence that the younger you are when you get your blood pressure under control, the more you reduce your chance of having cognitive impairment later in life.
Anything that disrupts blood flow can cause erectile dysfunction, and that includes high blood pressure. Without adequate blood flow, it is difficult to achieve and maintain an erection. High blood pressure can also interfere with ejaculation and reduce sexual desire.
With so many serious health conditions tied to high blood pressure, lowering it and keeping it at a healthy level can have a big impact on your quality of life and longevity. If you have or think you might have high blood pressure, talk to your healthcare provider, who can advise you about lifestyle changes and medications that could be life-saving.