How high blood pressure damages the body
Blood pressure is the force of blood against the walls of blood vessels. High blood pressure, or hypertension, can cause damage throughout the body.
Left untreated, it can strain the heart, damage vessels, contribute to plaque in arteries and restrict blood flow. All this can lead to serious health problems.
THE RISKS ARE REAL
Take a closer look at the damage high blood pressure can do.
Memory loss. Damaged and restricted vessels reduce the amount of blood and oxygen that gets to the brain. This may contribute to memory loss.
Stroke. There are two ways high blood pressure can lead to stroke. A buildup of plaque in the arteries—or a clot thrown from a buildup elsewhere—can cut off blood flow to the brain. Or a weak spot in an artery can break open and leak blood into the brain.
Eye damage. Blocked blood flow or lack of blood flow can damage the retina or optic nerve, which can lead to complete vision loss.
Heart attack. Buildup of plaque—or a clot—in the arteries can cut off blood flow to part of your heart, causing a heart attack.
Heart failure. Narrowed arteries throughout your body can stop blood from freely traveling. This makes your heart work harder than normal, which can lead to an enlarged heart and heart failure.
Chronic kidney disease. The kidneys' job is to filter blood, so they have a lot of blood vessels. As arteries in the kidneys are damaged, less blood, oxygen and nutrients reach your kidneys—and they cannot filter effectively. If enough arteries become blocked, your kidneys may fail.
Abdominal aortic aneurysm. The aorta is the main blood vessel in the body. High blood pressure can weaken the walls of the aorta, which can cause it to become enlarged, like a balloon stretching out. This is called an aneurysm. A ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm is a life-threatening condition.
Peripheral arterial disease (PAD). Narrowed or blocked peripheral arteries can hamper blood flow, particularly to the legs. PAD can lead to pain, cramping or fatigue in the leg muscles, which can cause difficulty walking. If not treated, PAD can cause gangrene and loss of a limb.
Check your numbers! High blood pressure usually has no symptoms. So you may not know you're at risk for any of these problems until they occur. The only way to know whether you have high blood pressure is to measure it.
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Sources: American Academy of Family Physicians; American Heart Association; National Institutes of Health
- American Heart Association. “Health Threats from High Blood Pressure.” https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/health-threats-from-high-blood-pressure.
- American Heart Association. “High blood pressure speeds cognitive decline for middle-aged and older adults.” https://www.heart.org/en/news/2020/12/14/high-blood-pressure-speeds-cognitive-decline-for-middle-aged-and-older-adults.
- American Heart Association. “Types of Aneurysms.” https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/aortic-aneurysm/types-of-aneurysms.
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. “What Is High Blood Pressure.” https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/high-blood-pressure.