High blood pressure can hurt more than your heart
You probably know that undiagnosed, untreated, and poorly controlled high blood pressure can increase your risk of cardiovascular problems including angina (chest pain), heart failure, and heart attack. What you may not know is that high blood pressure can cause a wide range of other serious health problems. When your blood pressure is high for an extended period, it damages the blood vessels throughout your body and LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol builds up along tears in the artery wall. This build-up makes your circulatory system work harder and less efficiently than normal.
What health problems can high blood pressure cause?
If not properly managed, high blood pressure can cause problems in almost every system in your body, including:
- Increased risk of aneurysms: As blood at a higher than normal pressure moves through weakened arteries, it can cause the artery wall to bulge, forming an aneurysm. Aneurysms can form in any artery in the blood, though they’re most common in the aorta, which is the body’s largest artery. If an aneurysm ruptures, it can cause life-threatening internal bleeding.
- Transient ischemic attack and stroke: High blood pressure can cause atherosclerosis (build-up of fatty deposits in the arteries) and the development of blood clots, which can block blood flow to the brain. Deprived of the oxygen and nutrients that the blood carries, brain cells die, causing brain damage, which may be permanent.
- Vascular dementia and mild cognitive impairment: When the arteries that supply the brain with blood become narrowed or blocked, brain cells die, increasing the risk of these types of dementia.
- Kidney problems: To filter waste and excess water from the body, the kidneys need healthy blood vessels. If these vessels are damaged by high blood pressure, kidney scarring and failure can develop. High blood pressure can also cause kidney artery aneurysms.
- Eye problems: High blood pressure can damage the blood vessels that supply the retina, causing bleeding in the eye. This can cause partial or total loss of vision. Fluid build-up under the retina can also develop, causing distorted vision. In addition, high blood pressure can damage the optic nerve, which can lead to vision loss.
- Peripheral artery disease: When the blood vessels that supply the lower part of your body are narrowed by cholesterol build-up, it can cause pain and cramping in the hips, legs, and stomach.
- Sexual dysfunction and pregnancy complications: High blood pressure can increase the risk of erectile dysfunction in men and decreased sexual desire, vaginal dryness, and difficulty achieving orgasm in women. For pregnant women, it can increase the risk of pre-eclampsia, which can harm both the mother and baby.
- Bone loss: When blood pressure is too high, more calcium may be excreted in the urine. Over time, this loss of calcium can weaken the bones and increase the risk of osteoporosis.
- Obstructive sleep apnea: More than half of people with high blood pressure also have sleep apnea. Some researchers believe that the condition may be triggered by elevated blood pressure. In addition, the sleep deprivation caused by sleep apnea can cause blood pressure to rise.
How to lower your risk of high blood pressure and its complications
The first step is to talk to your doctor about how often you should have your blood pressure checked. If you are diagnosed with high blood pressure, follow your doctor’s recommendations about changes to your lifestyle and medication.
Several lifestyle changes can lower your risk of developing high blood or can lower elevated blood pressure. These changes include:
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Eating a nutrient-rich diet that’s low in fat, sugar, and salt
- Getting regular, moderate aerobic exercise
- Limiting alcohol
- Not smoking
- Managing stress