Effects of high blood pressure

DOCTOR’S CORNER

 

HIGH blood pressure can quietly damage your body for years before symptoms develop.

Left uncontrolled, you may end up with a disability, a poor quality of life or even a fatal heart attack.

Fortunately, with treatment and lifestyle changes, you can control your high blood pressure to reduce the risk of life-threatening complications.

Many people who have hypertension do not know why it is extremely important to maintain their blood pressure within the normal range, and as a result they do not take their medication on time, or some totally skip taking their medication completely.

High blood pressure affects the entire body and many grave complications can result from poorly controlled blood pressure.

The effects of hypertension on the body are mainly due to three mechanisms which are narrowing, thickening and bursting of the arteries.

This reduces blood supply to the body organs and that is how the complications come about.

This week we will look at some of the important complications.

Hypertension and your eyes

A brief period of very high blood pressure can cause loss of visual clarity.

The narrowing, thickening and bursting effects of high pressure can result in complete blockage of blood flow and subsequent loss of vision which generally subsides once the blood pressure level returns to normal.

So while the eye isn’t affected as badly as the brain or the heart it can give useful clues into the state of your health.

Your doctor may be able to draw important conclusions about how well controlled your hypertension is simply by looking into your eyes.

It can also cause nerve damage (Optic neuropathy). T

his is a condition in which blocked blood flow damages the optic nerve.

It can lead to the death of nerve cells in your eyes, which may cause bleeding within your eye resulting in vision loss.

Hypertension and your kidneys

Your kidneys play a vital role in your body, ridding it of toxins and helping to control fluid levels — a process that depends on healthy blood vessels.

High blood pressure can injure both the blood vessels in and leading to your kidneys. Having diabetes in addition to high blood pressure can worsen the damage.

Consistently elevated blood pressure levels lead to damage to the vessels supplying the kidney which reduces oxygen supply to the kidneys.

It’s ironic that kidney damage itself also leads to hypertension.

Hypertension and your heart

Hypertension causes your heart to work much harder than it should because it has to compensate for the increased blood pressure.

Like any muscle that increases in size with use, the heart increases in size.

Coronary artery disease affects the arteries that supply blood to your heart muscle.

Arteries narrowed by coronary artery disease don’t allow blood to flow freely through your arteries, which can cause chest pain.

The condition also occurs when blood flow through your arteries becomes blocked, usually because of atherosclerosis.

When blood can’t flow freely to your heart, you can experience chest pain, a heart attack or irregular heart rhythms.

 People with high blood pressure who have a heart attack are more likely to die of that heart attack than are people who don’t have high blood pressure.

Over time, the strain on your heart caused by high blood pressure can cause your heart muscle to weaken and work less efficiently.

Eventually, your overwhelmed heart simply begins to wear out and fail.

Damage from heart attacks adds to this problem.

Hypertension and blood vessels

Your blood vessels are meant to be flexible and supple, but hypertension eventually curtails this.

Like a rubber band that’s permanently stretched, they lose their elasticity.

They then become clogged, or they can rupture under pressure.

Hypertension and your brain

Just like your heart, your brain depends on a nourishing blood supply to function properly and survive.

But high blood pressure can cause several problems, including an increased risk of a stroke.

This can happen in two ways: firstly, a blood clot may form in an artery because of the reduced blood flow brought about by the narrowing and thickening effects of high blood pressure.

This results in part of the brain being cut off from oxygenated blood.

The second type occurs when the increased pressure and decreased artery flexibility cause a blood vessel in the brain to burst. 

Dementia is a brain disease resulting in impaired thinking, speaking, reasoning, memory, vision and movement.

There are a number of causes of dementia.

One cause, vascular dementia, can result from narrowing and blockage of the arteries that supply blood to the brain. It can also result from strokes caused by an interruption of blood flow to the brain.

In either case, high blood pressure may be the culprit.

High blood pressure that occurs even as early as middle age can increase the risk of dementia in later years.

Emergencies

High blood pressure is typically a chronic condition that gradually causes damage over the years.

In some cases, though, blood pressure rises so quickly and severely that it becomes a medical emergency requiring immediate treatment, often with hospitalisation.

In these situations, high blood pressure can cause: Problems with your brain, marked by memory loss, personality changes, trouble concentrating, irritability or progressive loss of consciousness (encephalopathy), Stroke, Seizures in pregnant women (preeclampsia or eclampsia), Unstable chest pain (angina), Heart attack, Sudden impaired pumping of the heart leading to fluid backup in the lungs resulting in shortness of breath (pulmonary edema), Sudden loss of kidney function (acute renal failure). In most cases, these emergencies arise because high blood pressure hasn’t been adequately controlled.

Other possible dangers of high blood pressure

Sexual dysfunction. Although the inability to have and maintain an erection becomes increasingly common in men as they reach age 50, it’s even more likely to occur if they have high blood pressure, too.

Bone loss. High blood pressure can increase the amount of calcium that’s in your urine. That excessive elimination of calcium may lead to loss of bone density (osteoporosis), which in turn can lead to broken bones.

Trouble sleeping. Obstructive sleep apnea — a condition where your throat muscles relax causing you to snore loudly — occurs in more than half of those with high blood pressure.

Prevention makes a difference.

High blood pressure’s complications are serious. But if your blood pressure is well controlled, you’re more likely to keep the most severe problems at bay.

Adopting healthy lifestyle changes can help you manage your disease. For example, reducing your sodium (salt) intake and losing even a little weight can have a dramatic impact on your high blood pressure.

You may also need to take high blood pressure medications to control your blood pressure. Many of these medications have the added benefit of helping prevent specific complications, such as heart or kidney disease.

Working closely with your doctor, you can get a handle on your blood pressure and live a healthier life.

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