Keeping blood pressure in check is an important part of staying healthy. Whether you monitor at home, or check in with your doctor every so often, keeping track of your numbers is a great way to keep tabs on your heart health.
What is High Blood Pressure?
High blood pressure, or “hypertension,” is blood pressure that is higher than what is considered to be normal or safe for the body. Blood pressure is the measurement of the force exerted by the blood onto blood vessels as it’s pumped though the body. The higher the pressure is, the greater the risk for complications. Known as the “silent killer,” high blood pressure often goes undetected as there are no obvious symptoms.
Current Statistics (2013)♥ 1 in 5 people who have HBP don’t realize they have it.
♥ 1 in every 3 adults in the US has high blood pressure
♥ High blood pressure costs the US $47.5 billion in healthcare expenses and $3.5 billion in lost productivity every year
♥ High blood pressure contributed to 348,000+ deaths in the US in 2009
Are you at risk?
Below are the different ranges of blood pressure levels from normal to high in order of risk:
→ Normal: < 120/80
→ Pre-hypertension: 120-139 / 80-89
→ Stage 1 high blood pressure: 140-159 / 90-99
→ Stage 2 high blood pressure: 160+ / 100+
Dangers of High Blood Pressure
Hypertension affects many of the body’s organs and processes and can do so for years without yielding any symptoms. If left unmanaged, you could be subject to disability, poor quality of life and even death. The following complications are often caused by high blood pressure:
♥ Arterial Damage. High blood pressure affects the interior lining of your arteries. More pressure means they have to compensate by developing thicker, stiffer walls – a process called arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). Then, the fats start to collect on those walls from your blood stream (atherosclerosis) narrowing and/or blocking the flow of blood. Blocking or slowing blood flow can damage vital organs and cause other complications, including chest pain, heart attack, stroke, aneurysms, and more.
♥ Heart Damage. Since the heart is the control center for blood flow throughout the body, high blood pressure can severely damage the heart in multiple ways:
Enlarged Heart. The heart is a muscle, and just like other muscles in the body, when the heart is overworked it gets bigger. HBP can cause the left ventricle to thicken or stiffen (left ventricular hypertrophy) which limits the abilities of that area of the heart causing heart attack, heart failure and even sudden cardiac death.
Coronary Artery Disease. When the arteries that direct blood through the heart become narrow or blocked, blood is unable to flow to the heart properly causing chest pain, irregular heartbeat, and even heart attack.
♥ Heart Failure. When the strain on the heart caused by HBP is extended over time, you run the risk of overworking your heart to the point of failure, and damage to the heart increases this risk.
♥ Brain Damage. The brain relies heavily on proper blood flow in order to function. HBP can cause several complications in the brain, including:
Cognitive Impairment. Mild cognitive impairment includes changes in understanding and memory and can be caused by many things, such as aging, Alzheimer’s disease and even blocked blood flow caused by arterial damage.
Vascular Dementia. This cognitive condition involves difficulties in several different areas of the brain: speaking, thinking, reasoning memory, vision and coordination. The interrupted or slowed blood flow to the brain can cause this condition to develop later in life, or even cause a more serious occurrence – stroke – which can lead to dementia.
Stroke. This condition occurs when blood flow is blocked or interrupted on its way to the brain. When the brain is deprived of oxygen and nutrients brain cells die. HBP that is left untreated can cause blood vessels in the brain to narrow, rupture and even leak; as well as cause the formation of blood clots, which block blood flow increasing the risk of stroke.
Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA). Also known as a “mini stroke” and often a precursor to a full stroke, TIA is the result of temporary interrupted blood flow to the brain that is caused by either atherosclerosis or a blood clot – both of which can be an effect of high blood pressure.
♥ Kidney Damage. The kidneys function as a filter to excess fluid and waste in the blood stream. Because this process is so dependant on healthy blood vessels, HBP can affect the ability of the kidneys to function properly resulting in damage to these organs and other related conditions.
Kidney Artery Aneurysm. An aneurysm can form anywhere in the body, but in this case, it is located in an artery that leads to a kidney. An aneurysm occurs when an artery bulges out due to high blood pressure. If an aneurysm bursts, stroke or internal bleeding may occur. This is often a result of atherosclerosis, a process that damages the artery wall.
Glomerulosclerosis. This condition is a type of kidney damage that occurs when the glomeruli (tiny clusters of kidney blood vessels) are scarred. These blood vessels filter waste from the blood and if they’re scarred, they won’t function properly leaving your kidneys unable to filter waste properly, leading to eventual kidney failure.
Kidney Failure. HBP is one of the leading causes of kidney failure because of the pressure and damage done to major blood vessels and arteries leading to the kidneys and the vessels within the kidneys themselves. Dialysis treatments or kidney transplantation may be required.
♥ Eye Damage. The eyes contain tiny, delicate blood vessels that are very much affected by the level of blood pressure that exists within the body. HBP can cause several eye complications that often include:
Retinopathy. This condition is characterized by damage to eye blood vessels. When the retina does not receive enough blood, bleeding in the eye, blurred vision and even blindness occur as a result. Those at greater risk include diabetics with high blood pressure.
Choroidopathy. This condition is characterized by fluid build up underneath the retina due to a leaking blood vessel. As a result, distorted or impaired vision occurs.
Optic Neuropathy. Defined as nerve damage to the eye, optic neuropathy is caused by blocked blood flow. This can not only kill the nerve cells in the eye, but also may cause bleeding and/or vision loss.
♥ Sexual Dysfunction. As high blood pressure progresses, it damages blood vessels which limits blood flow to multiple areas of the body – including reproductive organs. This means that men my find it difficult to achieve and maintain an erection (erectile dysfunction) and women may experience a decrease in sexual desire, vaginal dryness and even difficulty achieving orgasm.
What causes high blood pressure?
Anything from chronic stress to poor diet and lifestyle, and even genetics can cause high blood pressure. Causes common today often include:
♥ Tobacco use - Nicotine, a known stimulant, raises blood pressure immediately, and so can secondhand smoke. Plus, some of the chemicals taken in from tobacco products negatively affect arterial wall lining causing arteries to narrow and the resulting high blood pressure.
♥ Obesity - The overweight or obese body needs more blood to facilitate proper circulation of oxygen and nutrients to body tissues. This requires more blood production, which puts enhanced pressure on artery walls causing high blood pressure. Additionally, extra strain is put on the heart as requires extra energy and exertion to pump the extra amount of blood throughout the body.
♥ Lack of exercise - Those who are physically active tend to have lower heart rates, which contributes to a healthy blood pressure. The higher your heart rate, the harder your heart works with each contraction to pump blood throughout the body, which puts greater force on your arteries causing HBP.
♥ High salt intake - Sodium causes the body to retain water. This excess liquid flowing throughout the body is what causes elevated blood pressure.
♥ Alcohol use - In moderation, alcohol is safe and current US dietary guidelines actually recommend light alcohol usage because, in some cases, it can help lower BP by 2-4 mm Hg. However, high consumption of alcohol (more than 1-2 drinks/day) and binge drinking causes heart damage and high blood pressure, among other risks.
♥ High stress levels - During stressful situations, the body produces a surge of hormones causing a spike in blood pressure as the heart beats faster and arteries narrow. The hypothesis that stress directly causes prolonged HBP has yet to be proven. However, many people engage in damaging coping mechanisms (smoking, drinking, etc) for stress that cause blood pressure to rise. Additionally, prolonged short-term spikes in BP can put you at risk for developing long-term high blood pressure.
♥ Age - The age range that this often occurs depends on gender, but as age increases, so does the risk of developing high blood pressure.
♥ Gender - In general, men are at higher risk of developing HBP than women. However, this is dependant on age. From the ages of 45-54 and 55-64, the chances of developing HBP are roughly equal; and from ages 65+ (after menopause) more women than men are at risk for high blood pressure
♥ Family history & genetics - If you have a close relative with high blood pressure, you are more likely to develop it as well, which makes it is especially important for you to practice healthy lifestyle choices to try and avoid increasing your risk even further.
♥ Race - High blood pressure is commonly found among more African American individuals than any other race. Additionally, research has shown that the more serious complications like stroke and hart attack are also more common among African Americans, as well.
♥ Medication - Certain prescription and non-prescription medications can affect blood pressure. For example, many cold and flu decongestants often cause blood pressure to rise.
♥ Disease - Some chronic conditions, such as kidney disease, sleep apnea, and adrenal & thyroid disorders, can affect blood pressure levels and extra care may be required to help keep BP in check.
Types of High Blood Pressure that Occurs During Pregnancy
High blood pressure can occur in a couple different forms during pregnancy. Both can be harmful to mother and child, and require active management and monitoring. These types include:
♥ Gestational Hypertension. This is characterized by HBP that has developed after the 20 week mark during pregnancy and usually disappears after delivery.
♥ Preeclampsia. Often caused by chronic hypertension or gestational hypertension, preeclampsia is HBP that is accompanied by a high protein level in the urine. If a woman develops this condition, she is at risk for severe fetal complications, including the risk of death for either mother or child.
High Blood Pressure Risk and Pregnancy
Many expectant mothers who experience an increase in blood pressure during pregnancy require special care as HBP can affect the health of either mother or baby. Resulting complications can include:
♥ Harm to fetus and placenta. HBP causes reduced blood flow to the placenta, thus depriving the fetus of oxygen and nutrients potentially increasing the risk of low birth weight and premature delivery. It can also cause the placenta to separate from the uterus (placental abruption), a condition that also deprives the fetus of oxygen and may cause severe bleeding in the mother.
♥ Future risk of heart disease. Women who develop preeclampsia during pregnancy are at higher risk for cardiovascular disease later in life.
- - CDC.gov
- - MayoClinic
- - Prevention.com
- - WebMd