Aftermaths of elevated blood pressure

As many as 16 % hypertensive adults in the US remain unaware of their condition and thus do not undergo any form of medical treatment [1]. It is 22 % in low- and middle-income countries, where 80 % of total mortality is directly associated with cardiovascular disease [2]. The number is dramatically higher in the most poverty-stricken countries.

Meanwhile, unaddressed elevated blood pressure wreaks havoc on the internal organs and blood vessels for years before any action is taken. This often leads to developing life-threatening conditions, some of which are listed below.

Circulatory system

Blood vessels are subjected to additional strain when blood is transported at an increased pressure. Their inner lining is gradually damaged, which is an underlying mechanism for developing a wide range of secondary medical conditions. In particular, hypertension promotes atherosclerosis, a process in which arteries lose their elasticity and become narrower until they can no longer provide sufficient flow of blood and delivery of nutrients and oxygen.

Constricted, clogged arteries tend to bulge and ultimately form aneurysms, bubble-like structures that are susceptible to bursting. An aneurysm is especially dangerous when it forms in arteries that nourish the brain. The risk of death in patients with a ruptured brain aneurysm is 50 % and 15 % of such patients die before reaching the hospital.

Brain

Another way your brain can suffer from impaired, narrow and stiff blood vessels is through oxygen deprivation. Minutes after the oxygen supply is cut off, brain cells begin to die. Interrupted blood delivery to the brain may result in the so-called ischemic stroke. Another type of stroke is an internal bleeding into the brain, termed hemorrhagic stroke. This is commonly caused by a ruptured aneurysm, the formation of which is favored by elevated blood pressure.

Heart

Elevated blood pressure is a major risk factor for developing a range of heart conditions. These include:

  • Coronary heart disease – the most common cardiovascular disease, in which the buildup of fatty plaque, termed atherosclerosis, narrows down the coronary arteries and stiffens their walls. As a result, blood flow to the heart muscle is significantly diminished.

  • Heart attack - blood supply to the heart is dramatically reduced due to blocked coronary arteries, which causes oxygen starvation and death of heart muscle cells.

  • Heart failure – a long-term strain from high blood pressure weakens the heart to the point where it is unable to pump enough blood and oxygen through to other vital body organs.

Impaired sexual activity

Men with untreated high blood pressure are more likely to suffer from erectile dysfunction [3]. Penile blood flow velocity is lower in patients with elevated blood pressure due to structural damage to artery walls causing changes to sexual performance. Small blood vessels in penis are particularly prone to the loss of dilatation ability [4].

Similarly, women’s sexual functions are at risk in the case of elevated blood pressure. Studies show that hypertensive women are 1.7 times more likely to have sexual dysfunction [5]. Decreased blood flow to the vagina and clitoris lead to poorer relaxation response during sexual stimulation, vaginal dryness, pain and orgasmic dysfunction.

Other symptoms

Elevated blood pressure exerts adverse effects on virtually every part of the body, because all organs depend on a timely and uninterrupted supply of blood. This is just as much true for the heart as it is for kidneys or eyes. Monitoring your blood pressure is a tremendously beneficial routine, especially when you experience disconcerting non-specific symptoms such as headaches, nosebleeds, tremors, fatigue, nausea, chest pain, or breathlessness.

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