Serious Side Effects of High Blood Pressure on Your Body

elder woman with chest pain

Story at-a-glance -

  • Uncontrolled hypertension increases your chance of dying from stroke by up to four times and makes you three times more likely to die from heart disease than people with normal blood pressure levels
  • Read on to learn more about the side effects of hypertension on various body systems

Uncontrolled hypertension is very dangerous. According to former CDC director Dr. Thomas Frieden, it increases your chance of dying from stroke by up to four times and makes you three times more likely to die from heart disease than people with normal blood pressure levels.1

Letting your blood travel through the blood vessels with more force than normal may also damage your arteries, ultimately leading to organ damage, such as an enlarged heart or kidney failure.2 Read on to learn more about the side effects of hypertension on various body systems.

Here’s How Hypertension Damages the Circulatory System

The damage caused by high blood pressure starts in your circulatory system, particularly in the arteries. The increased force in the arteries can cause small tears in their inner lining, wherein cholesterol from the bloodstream will eventually accumulate. As a result, the arteries become narrow and less elastic, limiting the flow of blood throughout your body.3

The increased blood pressure may also cause a bulge in the weakened artery — this is known as an aneurysm. This usually occurs in the aorta, the largest artery in your body, but it may also affect other arteries. When an aneurysm ruptures, it may lead to fatal internal bleeding.4 High blood pressure may also damage your heart in a number of ways, including:5

Coronary artery disease — A condition wherein the artery that supplies blood to the heart's muscle becomes narrow, hindering proper blood flow to the heart. This may lead to chest pain, irregular heart rhythms (also known as arrhythmias), or worse, a heart attack.

Left ventricular hypertrophy — This condition develops when the left ventricle of the heart thickens or stiffens because it has to work harder than what's considered healthy just to pump blood to the rest of your body organs. As the left ventricle becomes enlarged, its ability to pump blood is compromised, putting you at risk of heart attack or sudden cardiac death.

Heart failure — The excessive pressure caused by hypertension, along with the damage from previous episodes of heart attack, may cause your heart to weaken over time and completely stop functioning.

High Blood Pressure May Damage Your Brain

In order for your brain to function properly, it must have a steady supply of oxygen and nutrients from your blood. However, high blood pressure may prevent sufficient amount of blood from reaching the brain by damaging the blood vessels that are connected to it. This eventually puts you at risk of the following medical problems:6,7

Cognitive impairment — Decreased blood flow to the brain may compromise your cognitive ability and memory. This may also lead to more serious problems like Alzheimer's disease.

Vascular dementia — Known as a condition that affects your memory, vision, movement, reasoning, and ability to think and speak, vascular dementia occurs when the blood flow to the brain is interrupted due to stroke or blocked arteries.

Stroke — This life-threatening condition occurs when a larger blockage of blood vessel deprives your brain of oxygen and nutrients, causing its cells to die. This may cause permanent brain damage or death. Your chance of surviving this situation depends on how severe your stroke is and how fast you received treatment.

Hypertension May Severely Impact Your Kidneys, Too

As with other parts of your body, your kidneys also depend on healthy blood vessels to function properly. However, hypertension may also damage your kidneys in a way similar to how it damages your heart and brain. This increases your risk of developing the following disorders:8,9

Glomerulosclerosis — This condition is caused by the scarring of the glomeruli — these are tiny blood vessels inside the kidneys, which are responsible for filtering fluid and waste from the blood. This condition prevents your kidneys from doing their job of filtering waste from the body, eventually causing kidney failure.

Kidney artery aneurysm — This form of aneurysm affects the renal artery, and it may also cause internal bleeding once it ruptures.

Kidney failure — High blood pressure is one of the biggest risk factors for kidney failure, since it may damage not only the renal arteries, but also the tiny blood vessels within the kidneys. In order to properly filter waste from your body, you may need to undergo dialysis or a kidney transplant.

Other Complications Associated With High Blood Pressure

Aside from heart, brain and kidney damage, high blood pressure may compromise these body organs too:10

Eyes — Hypertension may damage the vessels that supply blood to your retina, a condition known as retinopathy. It may also cause fluid buildup under the retina and damage to the optic nerve. These conditions ultimately lead to blurry vision or blindness.

Skeletal system — High blood pressure may decrease your bone density by increasing the amount of calcium in your urine.

Reproductive system — The risk for erectile dysfunction in men can increase due to hypertension. For women, it may reduce the blood flow to the vagina, which results in vaginal dryness and lower sexual desire or arousal.

Respiratory system — High blood pressure may cause aneurysm in the lungs and pulmonary embolism, a condition wherein the lungs develop blood clots due to restricted blood flows.11

Uncontrolled high blood pressure may also lead to hypertensive crisis, a condition wherein the blood pressure reading suddenly spikes to 180/120 mmHg or higher. A blood pressure this high may increase your risk of organ damage.12 Here are the signs and symptoms of hypertensive crisis:13,14,15

Dizziness

Nosebleed

Severe headaches

Weakness/tiredness

Shortness of breath

Nausea

Changes in mental status



Hypertensive crisis is life-threatening, so make sure that you seek immediate medical attention if you experience any of the telltale signs mentioned above.

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