Four Dangers of Hypertension
Hypertension (high blood pressure) is a common condition that affects both men and women and is known to become more prevalent as one gets older. Even though approximately 1.13 billion people worldwide suffer from hypertension, only one in four adults seem to have the condition under control. In fact, some people who have it show no symptoms at all, which can be fatal to the body. That said, it is very easy to detect, and can be done by a doctor during your routine check-up.
What exactly is hypertension and what causes the condition?
When someone has hypertension, the force of blood pushing against their arteries is higher than it should be. Thus, coining the term ‘high blood pressure’. Hypertension is further categorised into two different types. Namely, primary (essential) hypertension which has no specific recognisable cause, apart from gradually developing as one ages, and secondary hypertension, resulting from an underlying medical condition or prescription medication. Secondary hypertension can be caused by kidney disease, problems with the thyroid, hereditary defects present in blood vessels, taking illegal drugs, birth control pills and even certain types of painkillers.
Other known risk factors that can lead to hypertension include being over the age of 55, hereditary factors, being of African heritage, experiencing continuous stress, not exercising enough, a poor diet (especially if it includes too much salt!), diabetes, smoking, and drinking too much alcohol.
Four need-to-know dangers of hypertension:
It is not advised to leave high blood pressure uncontrolled, as the outcome often leads to serious complications that will put your life at risk. Not only can your vital organs be damaged, but your memory functioning might also be negatively impacted, which could later lead to dementia.
Here are four critical dangers of hypertension, when it is left untreated:
1. It damages your blood vessels and eventually your heart
Over time, high blood pressure damages the arteries and prevents your blood from flowing regularly to your heart. This can result in chest pain and arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats), and the hardening of arteries, which may cause a heart attack or stroke. The weakening of blood vessels is also quite common in untreated high blood pressure. If the blood vessels then start to swell, an aneurysm can form and possibly rupture. Overall, your heart will be placed under immense strain, as it must work harder to pump blood throughout the body. This can further lead to an enlarged left ventricle, increasing the chances of heart failure.
2. It causes damage to your brain
Effective blood supply is crucial to ensure healthy brain functioning. When blood supply is disrupted in any way (perhaps due to hardened arteries), you are immediately at risk of a transient ischemic attack (better known as a mini stroke). This might potentially lead to a full-blown stroke, often causing unrepairable damage to your brain cells. The limited blood flow to the brain could also impact your memory and normal cognitive abilities, which ultimately results in vascular dementia.
3. Your kidneys can be negatively impacted
Our kidneys have the important role of cleansing our blood from unwanted toxins and then changing this waste into urine. This process can be seriously affected when high blood pressure results in the damaging of your blood vessels (which is also part of healthy working kidneys). Kidney problems that may arise from this include kidney scarring, which causes the blood vessels in the kidney to no longer filter fluid and waste as they should. If this occurs, and excessive fluid and waste build up in your body, you could end up with kidney failure or will require dialysis.
4. It may lead to eye damage or visual impairment
The tiny blood vessels that supply blood to your eyes can also be impacted by high blood pressure. This can damage your retina and potentially cause bleeding in the eye or blurred vision. When fluid builds up under the retina (also caused by the damage of the tiny blood vessels), unrepairable scarring can eventually lead to loss of vision. Complete blockage of blood flow might damage your optic nerve, resulting in similar complications.
No more skipping routine check-ups
The four mentioned critical dangers have re-emphasised how important our blood vessels really are, and that keeping blood pressure under control is a must to ensure that all your organs function optimally. Considering that hypertension can be detected early (that is, if you don’t miss your routine check-ups), your doctor will be able to give you advice on how to manage it and prescribe the right medication. To take the right precautions, we suggest that from the age of 18, you should get your blood pressure read every two years, once a year when you turn 40, and as you approach 60, opt for two to three times a year. When it comes to hypertension, it is always better to play it safe!
For more information please contact:
Dr Indhren Naidoo, Specialist Physician
MBCHB (Wits), FCP (SA) M Med-Int. Med (UKZN)
Ethekwini Hospital and Heart Centre & Shifa Private Hospital
Tel: +27 31 581 2726 & +27 31 240 5123
Email: [email protected] or [email protected]
Disclaimer: Any information contained here is merely a guideline. Always visit your healthcare practitioner for any health-related advice or diagnosis.