Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, is a common chronic condition that affects nearly one in two adults in the United States. Of these, approximately one in five are recommended to make lifestyle modifications only. When hypertension remains untreated, it can trigger a chain of health complications extending well beyond concerns related to the heart.
Impaired Heart Health
Hypertension has a direct impact on the arteries, and widespread damage to the circulatory system is not unusual in cases of uncontrolled high blood pressure. Over time, this condition can cause arterial walls to harden, which makes blood flow more challenging. Likewise, the risk of aneurysms, or a rupture in the arteries, is increased. The damage can continue to progress to the heart, leading to conditions like an enlarged left heart, coronary artery disease (CAD), and even heart failure.
Reduced Kidney Function
High blood pressure also affects the renal system. The kidneys are responsible for cleaning the blood in our bodies by removing waste and excess fluid. Extensive scarring in the blood vessels inside the kidneys, known as glomerulosclerosis, can reduce function and make waste removal more difficult. In severe cases, kidney failure is possible. Furthermore, if hypertension is present alongside diabetes, the risk of kidney damage is amplified.
The small vessels in the retinas can get damaged due to overworked blood vessels, leading to a condition known as retinopathy. This can result in bleeding in the eye and cause blurred vision or blindness in more severe cases. Optic neuropathy, or nerve damage, is also a possibility, which can also lead to vision loss. Additionally, fluid buildup under the retina can occur, affecting a person’s ability to see.
Although it might be surprising to some, there is a correlation between a healthy mind and well-regulated blood pressure. While not all forms of dementia are caused by hypertension, researchers have found a link between high blood pressure and Alzheimer’s. People with elevated diastolic blood pressure, particularly in mid-life (around the ages of 40-64), are more likely to develop vascular dementia later in life.
While there is no official cure for hypertension, individuals can make significant efforts to control their symptoms. Simple behavioral and lifestyle changes can create a noticeable difference in many cases. Achieving a healthy body mass index (BMI), adopting a low-fat and low-sodium diet, and working with a healthcare professional to manage blood pressure are critical steps towards better health.
Prioritizing Health Now
While some population segments are more predisposed to developing hypertension, individuals still have significant control over their personal outcomes. Adopting a proactive approach to health can help in preventing hypertension from progressing to the point of affecting other bodily systems. For those concerned with the risk of high blood pressure or seeking best practices for controlling the condition, a conversation with a healthcare professional is recommended.