Understanding How Uncontrolled Hypertension Affects Your Body

It’s estimated that nearly half of adults with hypertension (high blood pressure) are unaware they have the disease. Of those who know, only one in four have it under control. Uncontrolled hypertension puts all of them at risk of developing life-threatening complications.

At Woodlands Heart and Vascular Institute, we teach patients about the dangers of hypertension, offer regular screenings, and provide customized care to help maintain healthy blood pressure.

Since May is High Blood Pressure Education Month, we’re taking the opportunity to explain how hypertension puts you at risk for heart attacks and strokes and leads to dangerous conditions throughout your body.

Heart and blood vessel disease

The blood flowing through your arteries puts tremendous pressure against the blood vessel walls. This high pressure ensures blood circulates through your body, supplying every organ with oxygen and nutrients.

Your arteries are made of elastic tissues, allowing the vessels to tolerate blood pressure within a specific range. When the pressure rises above the healthy range and stays high for an extended time, it damages the artery walls and the muscles in your heart, leading to two health concerns: atherosclerosis and heart failure.

Atherosclerosis

Rough, damaged areas in the artery walls snag cholesterol from your bloodstream. After infiltrating the wall, the fatty plaque gradually accumulates additional fats. The plaque enlarges and hardens the artery (atherosclerosis), which interferes with blood flow.

You have coronary artery disease when atherosclerosis develops in the arteries serving your heart. However, fatty plaques can develop in arteries anywhere in your body.

Heart failure

High blood pressure and coronary artery disease make your heart muscles work harder, eventually affecting their ability to pump blood (heart failure).

Chronic kidney disease

High blood pressure and diabetes are the top two causes of chronic kidney disease. Hypertension damages the renal arteries that supply blood to your kidneys, limiting circulation through the kidneys and harming the delicate structures that filter your blood.

The damaged tissues don’t heal; they turn into scar tissue. As more scar tissue develops, your kidneys lose more function, eventually leading to kidney failure. 

Unhealthy kidneys also contribute to high blood pressure, creating a cycle of worsening hypertension.

Peripheral artery disease

Atherosclerosis often develops in the lower leg arteries, causing peripheral artery disease. As the plaque increasingly stops the blood flow, you develop complications like nonhealing leg and foot wounds and gangrene.

Hypertensive retinopathy

You develop hypertensive retinopathy when high blood pressure damages the arteries in your eyes. Retinopathy, a general term for diseases affecting your retina, causes blurry and double vision. The longer your blood pressure goes uncontrolled, the more likely you are to have permanent vision loss.

Vascular dementia

Vascular dementia is a progressive dementia that occurs when the brain’s blood supply is significantly reduced or blocked due to high blood pressure and atherosclerosis. Blocked arteries also cause strokes.

Don’t wait for symptoms

You should never wait for signs alerting you to a problem, because high blood pressure doesn’t cause symptoms.

If you or your health care provider don’t regularly check your blood pressure, you won’t know you have the disease until the arteries are nearly or totally blocked. 

Unfortunately, a heart attack or stroke is often the first sign of a problem. 

If you have questions or want to schedule a risk assessment, use online booking or call Woodlands Heart and Vascular Institute today to schedule a consultation.

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