When blood is forced through your system at high pressure, your arteries receive a pounding. If not controlled, having persistent hypertension damages your circulation to hasten the hardening and furring up of your arteries that tends to occur with age. This can lead to serious damage and the possible complications of hypertension is why high blood pressure is treated.
The complications of hypertension
Having untreated high blood pressure increases your risk of a number of life-altering complications.
Some of the complications of hypertension are due to narrowing of the arteries, so blood flow is constricted, while other complications result from arteries that become over-stretched by increased pressure so they are more likely to burst.
The complications of high blood pressure can include:
- Angina (heart pain) – when the excess workload of pumping against high pressure means your heart muscle needs more oxygen and nutrients than are provided by a compromised blood supply.
- Heart attack – when blood supply through damaged coronary arteries becomes blocked due to spasm or a build-up of porridge-like atheroma and clotted blood.
- Heart failure – when a dilated or weakened heart becomes unable to pump blood efficiently, leading to swollen ankles or a build-up of fluid on the lungs (pulmonary oedema) leading to shortness of breath.
- A stroke – when damaged blood vessels or a blood clot disrupt blood supply to brain cells (ischaemic stroke) or bursts (haemorrhagic stroke).
- An aortic aneurysm – where the largest artery in the body, the aorta, becomes enlarged and in danger of rupture.
- Peripheral vascular disease – when blood supply to the legs is reduced to affect exercise tolerance and how far you can walk without muscle pain.
- Erectile dysfunction (impotence) – when damaged blood supply reduces the strength or occurrence of erections.
- Kidney failure – when damaged blood vessels in the kidneys reduces filtering of excess fluid and water-soluble toxins from the circulation.
- Failing sight – when damaged blood vessels in the eyes can reduce vision, sometimes suddenly if there is a bleed within the retina.
- Dementia – memory problems and cognitive decline are more common in people with high blood pressure due to its effects on brain circulation.
Uncontrolled high blood pressure is also associated with other risk factors such as obesity, abnormal cholesterol balance, raised triglyceride levels, insulin resistance and poor glucose tolerance.
These factors form a cluster known as metabolic syndrome which is associated with an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Calculating your risk of hypertension complications
If your blood pressure remains poorly controlled, then the likelihood of developing at least one of the above complications is high.
For someone in their 40s, each rise in systolic blood pressure of 10 mmHg increases the risk of future heart disease by 20%, while for someone with hypertension, the risk of having a stroke is 30 times higher than if their blood pressure is within the normal range.
You can assess your future risk of a heart attack or stroke yourself to help focus your mind by clicking here. You can also ask your doctor to calculate the risks for you next time you have your blood pressure or medication reviewed.
Although this may all sound rather frightening, early diagnosis, diet and lifestyle changes, prescribed medicines and regular self-monitoring at home can help to control your blood pressure so the risks of these hypertension complications remain a distant and controllable threat.
It’s better to know than to avoid the issue in the mistaken belief that none of these will affect you.
Prevention is key.
Reducing your systolic blood pressure (upper reading) by as little as 3 mmHg can decrease your risk of coronary heart disease by 5%, and your risk of a stroke by 8%.
Reducing your systolic blood pressure by 10 mmHg can reduce your risk of premature death by as much as a third.
It’s far better to take preventive measures now, to control your blood pressure, than to wait until irreversible damage has occurred.
If your blood pressure is raised, self-monitoring is key to maintaining good control.
Click here for advice on choosing a blood pressure monitor to use at home.
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