Hypertension, more commonly known as high blood pressure, is a major health problem. While your blood pressure usually rises and falls somewhat during the day, if it remains too high for too long, it can create serious complications, including death. According to the CDC, hypertension was a primary or contributing cause of death for more than half a million people in the US in 2020, and what’s worse, only 24% of those who are hypertensive have the condition under control.
At Northwest Houston Heart Center, cardiologists Dr. A. Adnan Aslam and Dr. Roy Norman stress the importance of getting regular blood pressure checks for their patients, because it’s quite possible to have hypertension and be unaware of it; it often doesn’t cause any symptoms in the early stages. Here, the team discusses some of the lesser known complications of hypertension, so you’ll know when to seek medical help.
Your arteries are blood vessels that deliver oxygen-rich blood from your heart to your body’s tissues. Blood pressure is a measurement of how much force the blood exerts on your arteries’ walls.
Readings consist of two numbers, reported as one number over the other. The upper number (systolic pressure) is the pressure against the walls when the heart actively beats. The lower number (diastolic pressure) is the pressure against the walls when the heart rests between beats. In healthy adults, a normal blood pressure reading should be 120/80 or lower.
When the readings are above these numbers, the heart has to work harder to pump the same amount of blood. That not only damages the blood vessels, but it can also damage your eyes, kidneys, and even your brain.
There are two different forms of hypertension.
Most cases fall under primary hypertension, where there's no identifiable cause of elevated blood pressure. It’s also called essential hypertension, and it usually develops slowly over time.
Secondary hypertension occurs due to an underlying medical condition, such as obstructive sleep apnea, adrenal tumors, thyroid problems, or kidney disease. It can also be a side effect of some medications and illicit drugs. Secondary hypertension usually appears suddenly and causes higher readings than primary hypertension.
Hypertension is often called a “silent killer,” because it doesn’t often present with symptoms until it’s become advanced and damaged organs like the heart and kidneys. That’s why it’s so important to get your blood pressure checked regularly.
In severe cases, though, high blood pressure can lead to:
If your pressure is so high you go into hypertensive crisis — a reading of 180/120 or higher — you may experience headaches and nosebleeds.
In the long term, hypertension can cause complications through two mechanisms. The first is atherosclerosis, where a sticky plaque develops on the blood vessel walls, causing them to narrow. The heart has to pump harder to circulate blood, which only increases the pressure. It becomes a positive feedback loop.
Hypertension-related atherosclerosis may cause:
In the venous side of the circulatory system, the part that delivers deoxygenated blood back to the heart, high pressure can damage vein walls and delicate valves, causing blood to pool and engorge the vein. Common effects are spider veins or varicose veins. These aren’t medically serious but can develop into later-stage vein disease, including life-threatening blood clots and non-healing leg ulcers that can lead to amputation.
Do you know your blood pressure reading? Has it been awhile since you’ve had it taken? Then it’s time to come into Northwest Houston Heart Center for a check-up to ensure your pressure’s OK and to receive an accurate diagnosis and prompt treatment if it’s not.
Give us a call at any of our locations (Tomball, Cypress, Magnolia, and The Woodlands, Texas), or book online today. You can also text us at 832-402-9518.