Why High Blood Pressure Is So Bad for Your Body (and What You Can Do About It)

Nurse checking a patient's blood pressure

Nurse checking a patient’s blood pressure | Zinkevych/iStock/Getty Images

You’ve heard of high blood pressure before, and you know it can be a serious threat to your health. But many don’t know exactly what it means when you have this health condition — or how it can seriously affect your body and cause death in the long run.

The American Heart Association reminds us high blood pressure occurs when the force of your blood pushing against your blood vessel walls is too high. This can eventually make your heart and blood vessels work way harder than they need to. And over time, the following can occur:

Heart problems and heart failure

First and foremost, your heart takes a serious hit when your blood pressure is beyond the normal numbers. The AHA notes increasing the workload of your heart can cause it to become enlarged. This can then result in heart failure, as the organ can’t pump blood efficiently to the rest of the body.

Vision loss

You knew the heart was affected — but you may not realize that your vision can also suffer when you’re dealing with hypertension. The blood vessels in the eyes can also take damage here, resulting in vision loss. The Mayo Clinic also notes high blood pressure can also potentially cause fluid buildup underneath the retina, and that can cause distortion in your vision. Additionally, nerve damage from a lack of proper blood flow can kill off nerve cells in your eyes.

Damage to the arteries

The inner linings of your arteries are likely to suffer when you have this condition. Over time, they can become less elastic, which limits how much blood can flow through them. Peripheral artery disease, which occurs when the arteries in the legs, arms, stomach, and head are narrowed, is a common complication of hypertension. And of course, if the arteries leading to the heart become blocked, this can lead to a heart attack.

Sexual dysfunction

Arterial damage can mean less blood flow throughout your entire body, thus causing many men to deal with sexual dysfunction. For men who aren’t treating their high blood pressure, this is an increasingly common issue. As for women, it’s common to experience a low libido as well.

Stroke

Heart disease is the biggest killer in the U.S., but stroke isn’t far behind. Your brain needs a thorough blood supply to continue working, and high blood pressure can damage or weaken the blood vessels in the brain. This then causes the vessels to narrow or rupture. Alternatively, hypertension can also cause blood clots to form in the arteries that supply blood to the brain, which then can result in a deadly stroke.

Kidney damage

Your blood vessels assist your kidneys in filtering fluids and waste from the blood — and if high blood pressure interrupts this process, damage to the organs can result. The Mayo Clinic notes high blood pressure is actually one of the leading causes of kidney failure. And this health condition can also cause scarring on your kidneys or an aneurysm in an artery leading to the kidneys, thus causing internal bleeding or death.

Have high blood pressure? Here’s what you can do

In order to treat your high blood pressure, you need to know you have it. It’s important to visit your doctor annually to get your reading — and always ask how your numbers are looking, especially if they take the reading and fail to tell you. If the condition runs in your family, it’s particularly important to know if you have it (no matter what your age is).

WebMD suggests making a few lifestyle changes, as this can dramatically alter your blood pressure for the better. If you’re carrying extra weight, shedding just 10 pounds can markedly improve your condition — and moving just 30 minutes a day with a bout of light exercise can help you get there.

You should also make sure you’re eating the right foods. Get plenty of fruits and veggies in your diet, eat whole grains, and reduce your intake of alcohol and caffeine whenever possible. You should also avoid sodium, as this can greatly impact your blood pressure.

If your blood pressure doesn’t improve with lifestyle changes, there are also medication options you can try. Make sure to ask your doctor about prescription options that may work best for you.

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