Most recognize that high blood pressure has negative health effects. It’s measured at each medical appointment, and when found to be in an unhealthy range, a course of action is quickly mapped out to bring it back down. Many people also know that suffering from high blood pressure increases their risk of catastrophic health events such as stroke or heart attack. However, few are aware of how or why this is the case.
Understanding exactly what high blood pressure means, how it occurs, and how it impacts health can help patients better grasp the importance of vigilance in monitoring and controlling their own blood pressure, as well as the dangers of allowing the condition to go untreated.
What is High Blood Pressure?
Blood pressure refers to the force of blood against artery walls as it passes through them. When this pressure is at a normal level, arteries are left undamaged. However just as overfilling a tire or a garden hose can eventually cause damage, so too can increased blood pressure through arteries over an extended period of time. Eventually, they can become damaged and narrowed, making it more difficult for blood to flow properly. Such arterial damage can lead to a number of health problems, including stroke, kidney failure, and heart complications such as the following:
Heart Attack from High Blood Pressure
When the damaged or diseased arteries are those which supply blood directly to the heart muscle, a condition known as coronary artery disease is the result. For years, even decades, it may go undetected. However, decreased flow of oxygen-rich blood will eventually lead to troubles such as arrhythmia (irregular heart beat), chest pain, and in the event of a total blockage, heart attack.
During a heart attack, the portion of the heart supported by the blocked artery is suddenly and completely deprived of oxygen. If blood flow is not quickly restored, that section of the heart will begin to die. Potential symptoms may include chest pain, shortness of breath, and upper body discomfort in the jaw, shoulder, neck or back.
Heart Failure from High Blood Pressure
As the damage left by high blood pressure restricts blood flow, the heart is forced to work harder than ever to provide the body with adequate circulation. Eventually, all this hard work can cause thickening or stiffening of the heart, further impeding its capabilities. As the heart becomes weaker, heart failure can result.
While the type of heart failure can vary, it is most commonly seen as an enlarged left ventricle with signs of fluid build-up throughout the body. Symptoms often include shortness of breath, fatigue, and swelling of the ankles, legs, feet, abdomen, or veins in the neck.
Without fully understanding the potential dangers and health concerns, it can be difficult to appreciate why early and effective treatment of high blood pressure is so crucial. The damaging effects may not be immediately obvious, but complications can lurk, unseen for years. Preventative measures for those at risk and proactive care for diagnosed patients can help curb these risks and protect the heart and other vital organs from potentially irreparable damage.
If you are concerned about high blood pressure and the potentially deadly impact it can have on your heart, contact any location of Cardiovascular Institute of the South to schedule a consultation with one of our highly-trained and respected cardiologists.