According to the 2006 Health Survey For England, around one in three people have hypertension—or high blood pressure as it’s more commonly known. As blood is pumped through a blood vessel it pushes against the sides, and when this pressure is too high it can put an extra strain on your arteries and heart, which can lead to a host of serious health complications. High blood pressure has been described as a silent killer, because many people don’t experience noticeable symptoms until damage has already been done to the body.
Two different numbers record your blood pressure. The higher number—systolic pressure—is the force at which your heart pumps blood around your body, while the lower number—diastolic pressure—measures the resistance to the blood flow in your arteries. Typically, a blood pressure of 140/90mmHg or more is considered high. One of the most prominent dangers of high blood pressure is hypertension; it can result in a range of ailments that, if left untreated, can seriously affect your quality of life and even be fatal in some circumstances.
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Hypertension can damage the inner lining of arteries, making it easier for fats to collect in them. Eventually they can become more narrow and less elastic, which limits blood flow throughout the body. The pressure of blood moving through a weakened artery can also cause it to form a bulge—or an aneurysm—that can rupture and lead to internal bleeding.
One of the most notable dangers of high blood pressure is the narrowing effect it has on the arteries meaning blood can’t flow freely to the heart—this can lead to chest pains, irregular heart rhythms or even a heart attack. Hypertension can also make the heart work harder, causing the left side to thicken and stiffen and increasing the chances of a heart attack or heart failure. The latter can also occur because the strain on the heart weakens the muscles and wears them out.
The narrowing or damage of the blood vessels in the brain may cause a temporary disruption of blood supply that can lead to a transient ischemic attack—or a mini stroke, as it’s more commonly known. A full-blown stroke—where part of your brain is deprived of oxygen, causing damage to your brain cells—can occur when untreated hypertension weakens your brain’s blood vessels, leading them to narrow, rupture or leak.
One of the dangers of high blood pressure is the lack of blood flow to the brain, which can also lead to cognitive impairment of varying degrees of severity. Vascular dementia, which profoundly affects your ability to think as well as your speech, memory, vision and movement, can develop when the arteries that supply the brain are narrowed or blocked.
Kidney failure can occur when high blood pressure damages the arteries leading to your kidneys and the tiny vessels—called glomeruli—found within them. The kidneys can’t filter waste from blood, meaning you may require dialysis or even a kidney transplant. Aneurysms can also happen in kidneys, leading to internal bleeding.
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High blood pressure can damage the delicate blood vessels around your eyes, particularly the retina, causing retinopathy. This can lead to bleeding in the eye, blurred vision and even blindness. Hypertension can cause blood vessels to leak, letting fluid build up under the retina and impairing vision. Blocked blood flow can also damage the optic nerve and kill nerve cells, resulting in bleeding in your eye or loss of vision.
Reducing your blood pressure by even small amounts can help lower your risk of developing health complications. Many causes of high blood pressure are related to your lifestyle—such as smoking, drinking a lot of alcohol and caffeine and a poor diet. Being overweight or obese can also increase your chances of developing this condition. Making changes to your lifestyle and diet can make you less susceptible to the dangers of high blood pressure and decrease your chances of having it altogether. These include losing weight, eating more fruits and vegetables, cutting down on salt and alcohol, exercising regularly and quitting smoking and trying to get at least six hours of sleep a night. Your doctor may also prescribe certain medicines to prevent your blood pressure from getting too high—whether or not you receive these depends on your age and how high your blood pressure is.
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