The 5 Risks of High Blood Pressure
Most of us are aware that high blood pressure poses health risks. It’s known as the “silent killer” because it usually has no obvious symptoms. A wide range of physical traits and lifestyle choices can place you at a greater risk of developing high blood pressure. When left untreated, high blood pressure can damage your circulatory system and threaten your health. Let’s take a look at five common health conditions that can be caused by high blood pressure.
Leading Health Risks of High Blood Pressure
The damage caused by high blood pressure typically occurs over time. Left undetected or uncontrolled, high blood pressure can lead to a wide range of health conditions. Here are five common ones to keep in mind:
1. Heart attack. High blood pressure damages arteries, which can harden with plaque, a buildup of fat, cholesterol, and other substances. This slow process is called atherosclerosis. As these arteries narrow, they prevent blood from flowing freely into the heart muscle, starving it of oxygen and nutrients. A heart attack occurs when the blood flow that brings oxygen to the heart muscle is severely reduced or cut off completely. In the U.S., someone has a heart attack about every 40 seconds. Heart attacks can result in death, but survival rates have improved over the past few decades, particularly when treated promptly. Signs of a heart attack include chest pain; pain or discomfort in the arms, shoulders, back, neck, or jaw; a cold sweat; shortness of breath; and nausea or vomiting.
2. Stroke. Stroke is a leading cause of death and long-term disability. A stroke occurs every 40 seconds in the U.S., and a stroke-related death occurs every 3.5 minutes. A stroke happens when a blood vessel that supplies blood and oxygen to the brain becomes blocked or bursts. A stroke can impair your ability to think, move, and function. Severe strokes may cause paralysis or death. High blood pressure — along with obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, and smoking — is a leading cause of stroke.
3. Heart failure. Heart failure occurs when the heart is not pumping blood as well as it should. High blood pressure can lead to heart failure because it increases the heart’s workload, causing it to enlarge. As a result, the heart doesn’t supply enough oxygen and nutrients to cells throughout the body. Symptoms of heart failure include fatigue, shortness of breath, and sometimes coughing. Heart failure is a chronic, progressive condition that makes walking, climbing stairs, and other daily activities difficult.
4. Eclampsia. Eclampsia refers to the onset of seizure or coma in a woman with preeclampsia, which is a complication of pregnancy in which a woman has high blood pressure and other symptoms. Most women who have preeclampsia do not experience seizures or a coma. Those who have very high blood pressure, abnormal blood tests, vision changes, or abdominal pain have a higher risk of developing eclampsia.
5. Kidney failure. The kidneys help filter waste materials and extra fluids from the blood. High blood pressure is the second-leading cause of kidney failure. That’s because high blood pressure can narrow, weaken, or harden the dense network of blood vessels around the kidneys. With a lower supply of oxygen and nutrients, the kidney can no longer filter blood effectively. Many people who have kidney failure have no symptoms, but signs to look for include itchy skin, muscle cramps, pain in the lower back, and swelling in the hands, legs, feet, or ankles.
Managing Your Blood Pressure
The best ways to avoid or reduce the health risks of high blood pressure are to monitor your blood pressure, learn the symptoms, and make lifestyle changes for a healthier heart. Medications can effectively keep blood pressure in check, but there are better ways to lower your blood pressure, including eating a heart-healthy diet, losing weight, lowering your alcohol and salt consumption, not smoking, and reducing stress.
Exercise is a key component of good heart health. Studies have shown that walking, if done regularly, can be part of an effective fitness regimen for adults over the age of 65. “Simply walking two miles a day does as much for your cardiovascular system as working out and breaking a sweat,” says Dr. Herbert Semler, a Mayo Clinic-trained cardiologist and the creator of the Heart Club app. Learn more about how this all-in-one app can help you monitor and control your blood pressure.