The Dangers of High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is a significant risk factor for strokes and is the leading cause of strokes in adults aged 50 years or older, accounting for 25 to 30% of all strokes.
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, affects 1 in 3 adults worldwide. If uncontrolled, it can lead to severe illness and death. Strokes can occur even with no symptoms present. One in five people who have a stroke has high blood pressure.
Several factors cause high blood pressure, including genetics, obesity, and old age. The risk of high blood pressure increases as we age. Other risk factors include diabetes, stress, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and an unhealthy diet. Of course, some people are born with higher-than-normal blood pressure, an added risk for cardiovascular disease.
High blood pressure is dangerous because it damages the lining of arteries, making them harder and narrow, blocking blood flow and leading to a heart attack or stroke. High blood pressure also increases the thickness of your blood, increasing resistance against blood flow through your arteries.
High blood pressure is when the force of blood against artery walls is too high. Uncontrolled high blood pressure can cause serious problems such as heart disease and stroke, killing more than 9 million people worldwide each year (World Health Organization).
High blood pressure is often called the “silent killer” because there are typically no warning signs or symptoms of high blood pressure until it has already caused significant health problems.
If you have uncontrolled high blood pressure, you risk significantly increasing your chances of getting heart disease or suffering a stroke.
When uncontrolled, high blood pressure can also damage the kidneys, eyes, and arteries throughout the body. That is why high blood pressure is referred to as “the silent killer” – you may not know you have it until it is too late.
What is High Blood Pressure?
High blood pressure means too much force on your blood vessels while your heart pumps blood around your body. Your heart has four chambers, two on the top, right, and left, called the atria, and two bottom chambers called the ventricles.
Blood flows into your heart from all areas in your body; it collects in these two top chambers briefly before being pumped to the rest of your body by the two bottom chambers.
When your heart contracts, or squeezes, to pump the blood out into your body, it creates pressure against the atria walls. This pressure means more force on the walls than there would usually be. Similarly, when your heart relaxes between beats, this relaxation also adds to the regular forces within the atria.
When you have high blood pressure, the atria walls are pushed too hard, which means they cannot relax properly in-between beats. This pressure can lead to areas of blood collecting within your heart, causing it to swell up, putting extra strain on the bottom chambers.
This pressure buildup leads to high blood pressure and damage to the arteries in your brain, which causes a stroke. Therefore, it is important to control high blood pressure to reduce these stroke risks.
High Blood Pressure Can Lead to Other Medical Problems
High blood pressure can also lead to cardiovascular problems associated with strokes, such as heart attacks and coronary artery disease. The risk of stroke in people with these conditions is five times higher than in healthy individuals.
Another example is carotid artery disease, which occurs when fat and other substances in the blood clog up your arteries. A clog can reduce or block blood flow to your brain, leading to a stroke.
Reynaud’s syndrome is another condition associated with high blood pressure. Reynaud’s syndrome is a blood circulation disorder that affects the arms and legs.
What are the Symptoms of High Blood Pressure?
The symptoms of high blood pressure include:
- Chest pains
- Feeling sick
- Shortness of breath/rapid breathing
- Confusion. If you feel tired and confused for no reason without a headache or chest pain.
- Blurred vision. Blurred vision is the most common symptom but the least specific as several other causes can cause blurry vision.
How Can I Check My Blood Pressure?
Checking your blood pressure is relatively easy and should be done at least once a year by a doctor or nurse. If you are doing it yourself, then follow these steps:
- Sit down at a table.
- Rest your arm on the table with your upper arm at heart level, bent towards you slightly.
- Wrap the cuff around your bare upper arm, covering all the areas above the bend in your elbow.
- Make sure that it is tight enough to feel firm but not too tight to restrict blood flow.
- Inflate the cuff to a pressure that is 20 mmHg above your expected systolic blood pressure.
- Inflate the bladder of the cuff with air and firmly wrap it around your arm. Cover all areas below your elbow to about an inch above your wrist.
- Turn the knob on the top of the cuff to release the pressure.
- Please wait for the gauge inside the top of the cuff to register zero, then take off your hand from inside it. This measurement is your systolic blood pressure.
- The second number on your blood pressure reading is your diastolic blood pressure. It shows how much pressure is in your arteries when pumped full of blood in between beats.
Average systolic blood pressure is less than 140 mmHg, whereas the normal range for diastolic blood pressure is between 80 and 90 mmHg.
How Can I Lower My Blood Pressure?
There are several ways that you can lower your blood pressure. However, it is essential to remember that the best way to do this is by eating a healthy, balanced diet and exercising regularly.
A doctor will prescribe medication to reduce your blood pressure if lifestyle changes are not enough. You can also take steps yourself, such as:
- Eating a low-salt diet
- Reducing the amount of caffeine and alcohol you drink
- Receiving treatment for any other illnesses or conditions that you may have could also increase your blood pressure.
- A healthy diet high in fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, beans, peas, lentils, whole grains, lean meats, and fish will help to lower your blood pressure.
- The Mediterranean diet can also be beneficial for lowering blood pressure.
However, you should consult your doctor before following the Mediterranean diet because it may not suit everyone.
Taking steps to reduce your stress levels can also help lower blood pressure. You could try yoga or meditation, take up a hobby that interests you, talk to friends and family about tricky situations, and take up exercise. Exercise reduces stress by releasing endorphins, the body’s natural relaxers. Exercise also increases your metabolic rate, so you will be able to do more without feeling out of breath or tired, and it can help improve blood pressure over time. If you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, you should not treat it yourself. You should consult your doctor to investigate the cause and prescribe medication or lifestyle changes to reduce your blood pressure. These changes are significant because high blood pressure can lead to many other long-term conditions, such as heart disease, which are serious and should be dealt with by professionals.
How Blood Clots Form from High Blood Pressure
It is vital for someone who has high blood pressure to understand what happens in your body when you get an injury. When you injure yourself, your body reacts by sending clotting factors to the wound to stop any loss of blood. It does this because it needs to protect its organs and muscles from becoming starved of oxygen. However, if you have high blood pressure, your body will send substantial amounts of clotting factors because the higher pressure means that the blood flows through your veins faster. If there is an injury to a vein, such as when you cut yourself shaving, these highly concentrated levels of clotting factors mean that your wound can become clogged very quickly, and a blood clot can form. These clots are called thromboses, and if they block the flow of blood, this is called thromboembolism, which can result in severe conditions such as deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolisms. If you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, you should be concerned when you are injured, especially when the injury is to a vein. For example, you should avoid taking long hot baths or showers after an injury to reduce your blood pressure and protect yourself against the formation of clots. If there are no other health problems associated with high blood pressure, your doctor may prescribe medication to reduce the number of clotting factors you produce. However, it is essential to remember that this is extremely serious. If you believe that you may be at risk of developing blood clots, then you need to seek professional advice from your doctor as soon as possible.
Blood Vessels and Strokes
Blood vessels are an essential part of your body because they carry oxygen and nutrients to every body area. However, these blood vessels must remain healthy to expand and contract as necessary so that their walls can expand and contract. When you have high blood pressure, the increased pressure means that the walls of your blood vessels become damaged. Over time this means that they can become unable to expand and contract as usual, which puts you at risk of a stroke. A stroke occurs when the blood vessels stop carrying oxygen and nutrients around your body. A hemorrhagic stroke occurs if this blockage happens in the brain. This type of stroke is serious because it can cause paralysis, loss of vision, and loss of speech. There are also risks associated with hemorrhagic strokes because they can cause brain damage if not treated quickly enough. An Ischemic stroke occurs when a blockage occurs in a blood vessel outside of the brain. If you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, you need to be aware of the symptoms associated with a stroke, such as sudden headaches, vision loss, and numbness. If you notice them, these symptoms are an emergency because it means a lack of oxygen delivered to your brain. You should call 911 immediately so that paramedics can prepare to treat you or give you further instructions over the phone.
Risk Factors that Lead to High Blood Pressure
Risk factors contributing to high blood pressure include age, family history, weight, and diet. High blood pressure is more common in older people because their arteries become less elastic, meaning the heart must pump more to keep blood flowing around the body. However, this does not mean that high blood pressure only affects the elderly. It can affect anyone if they do not take the necessary steps to control their blood pressure. For example, obesity can cause high blood pressure because of the amount of extra weight carried by the body. This weight strains your heart and makes it work harder than necessary to keep moving blood around your system. If you are overweight, you need to try to lose weight, which will bring down your blood pressure and reduce the strain on your heart. Your family history is another risk factor contributing to high blood pressure because of hereditary conditions like arteriosclerosis or diabetes. You may also be at a higher risk of developing high blood pressure if you do not eat healthily or drink too much alcohol. Your diet needs to be high in potassium and low in sodium, which means eating a lot of fresh vegetables and fruit. Reducing your salt intake can dramatically lower your blood pressure because it will stop you from retaining water, putting unnecessary strain on the heart. Sodium makes you retain water which increases blood pressure If you enjoy a glass of wine in the evening, this will not cause high blood pressure, but your blood pressure may creep up if you drink more than a couple of glasses per day. Alcohol can also increase your risk of developing high blood pressure because it increases the amount of stress on your heart. If you are trying to lose weight, then cutting out alcohol entirely is the best thing that you can do to help your efforts. Cutting down on caffeine also reduces blood pressure because it is a stimulant that speeds up your heart rate and puts extra stress on the muscle.
The Link Between Blood Flow and Blood Pressure
When you have a healthy heart, it will pump oxygen-rich blood around your body to provide enough energy for all your organs to function. For the heart to keep pumping this blood, it needs a good distribution network so that every part of your body receives adequate nutrients and energy. High blood pressure occurs when the heart is forced to pump harder because it does not have a good distribution network. In other words, some blockages prevent blood from moving around your body as quickly as necessary. Blockages can be caused by genetic factors such as arteriosclerosis, but a poor diet and obesity can also trigger them. Improving blood flow is critical for reducing high blood pressure and preventing a stroke because it gives your heart a break. Without a good network to support the heart, it must work harder, putting immense strain on the heart muscle, which leads to health complications. Your body can develop its network through increased activity, but this can take years. Using medication to improve blood flow is also an option, but this may not be the best thing for your overall health.
High blood pressure is the leading cause of strokes, affecting anyone if they do not take the necessary steps to monitor their health. However, high blood pressure does not always have obvious symptoms, and you may need to go for regular screening sessions to notice warning signs before it is too late. Eat healthily, reduce your salt intake, and monitor your alcohol consumption to lower blood pressure. Keeping active will also improve the health of your cardiovascular system, but it may take years for this effort to pay off. If you suspect that you might have high blood pressure, you should make an appointment to see your GP. The earlier you identify the risk of developing high blood pressure, the better your chances of treatment and save yourself from a potentially life-threatening.
The Center for Disease Control on high blood pressure, its symptoms and causes.
The Mayo Clinic on the dangers of hypertension.