Understanding the Complications of Hypertension

Dr. Pakhi Sharma (MBBS)
Dr. Pakhi Sharma (MBBS)

General Physician | 6+ years

Complications of Hypertension
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Hypertension is known as the “silent killer” for a good reason. According to the World Health Organisation, it affects about 1.28 billion adults around the world and only 46% of these are aware of their condition. Most people do not realise they have high blood pressure until they develop complications that lead to symptoms like blurred vision, chest pain, difficulty breathing, etc. Can you prevent the complications of hypertension? Keep reading to know more.

Contents:
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    When is High Blood Pressure Dangerous?
  • blog_single_bullet_icon
    What are the Various Complications of Hypertension?
  • blog_single_bullet_icon
    How Can You Prevent the Complications of Hypertension?
  • blog_single_bullet_icon
    When to See a Doctor?
  • blog_single_bullet_icon
    Don’t Have Time To Read?
  • blog_single_bullet_icon
    FAQs
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When is High Blood Pressure Dangerous?

Initially, hypertension does not present with any symptoms in the early stages, thus it may go unnoticed for a long time. When you have high blood pressure, the flow of blood through your blood vessels can put undue and excessive stress on them.

Without treatment, high blood pressure can continue to cause serious damage to your arteries, severely limiting or cutting off oxygen and blood supply to your vital organs. This is what makes undiagnosed and uncontrolled hypertension dangerous to your health.

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What are the Various Complications of Hypertension?

The following are some of the major complications caused by uncontrolled high blood pressure:

1.Atherosclerosis

High blood pressure when left untreated for a long time can cause small tears and damage to the walls of your blood vessels. When the excess cholesterol from your diet accumulates in these tears, it can lead to the formation of plaque

This is known as atherosclerosis. This plaque buildup in your arteries can cause them to become clogged, stiff and narrow, leading to reduced blood and oxygen flow to your organs.

2.Cardiovascular Diseases (CVD)

Hypertension can damage the arteries that supply blood to your heart, which can result in the following cardiovascular diseases. 

Hypertension can damage the main arteries that supply blood to the muscles of your heart. When these arteries are blocked by plaque, the resulting reduction in blood and oxygen flow to your heart muscles can cause damage. This results in your heart being unable to pump blood efficiently throughout your body. 

Sometimes, high blood pressure can cause a small portion of the plaque to break free and form a blood clot. If a blood clot is large enough to block the blood flow to your heart partially or completely, it can lead to a lack of oxygen supply to your heart muscles, causing a heart attack.

High blood pressure can damage the inner lining of the arteries that supply blood and oxygen to your brain. This can lead to plaque buildup and the formation of blood clots. The resulting lack of oxygen supply can lead to an ischaemic stroke. Strokes can vary in severity based on the duration of time when the blood supply is cut off, and can cause brain damage or death.

When atherosclerosis occurs in the arteries that supply blood to your limbs, especially your legs and feet, it is known as peripheral artery disease. PAD cuts off or hampers blood supply to your arms and legs, which can cause you to experience pain, weakness, numbness or tingling, cramping of muscles, and coldness in your extremities. 

The decreased blood supply can also slow down wounding healing in your limbs, which makes the wounds or sores more susceptible to infections. 

3.Eye Damage

High blood pressure can damage the small and delicate blood vessels that supply blood to your eye. Hypertension can weaken the walls of the arteries that carry blood to the retina (tissue in your eye that senses light), which can lead to the leaking of fluid into your retina, swelling of the eye, rupturing of the blood vessels, and partial or complete loss of blood supply to your retina. 

This is known as hypertensive retinopathy, which can cause several problems in your vision like blurriness, difficulty seeing colours, reduced or darkening field of vision, floaters, etc. It can also lead to partial or complete blindness if left untreated.

4.Kidney Damage

Hypertension can damage the blood vessels that supply oxygen and nutrients to your kidneys, causing them to become stiff and narrow. This can hamper blood supply to your kidneys, leading to scarring and damage to your kidney tissue. Prolonged reduction in blood and oxygen supply to your kidneys can lead to the development of conditions like chronic kidney disease (CKD) and kidney failure. Uncontrolled high blood pressure is the second leading cause of kidney failure, just behind Type 2 Diabetes.

Hypertension can also damage the tiny blood vessels in your kidneys that filter out waste and toxins from your blood. When these arteries are damaged, it can lead to waste products like excess salts, water, creatinine, urea, etc. remaining in your blood instead of being excreted through urine. This can lead to problems like rashes, seizures, kidney failure, heart attack, etc. 

Kidney damage can also increase your risk of high blood pressure as your kidneys are responsible for regulating blood pressure levels. When they are unable to function normally, it can lead to a further elevation in your blood pressure levels.  

5.Cognitive Issues

  • Cognitive decline

Stroke, which is a complication of hypertension, can lead to brain damage caused by shrinkage or death of brain tissue due to lack of oxygen and blood supply. This can lead to memory issues, problems with reasoning, judgement, and overall cognition. Having uncontrolled high blood pressure in midlife (over 45 years of age) can increase your chances of developing vascular dementia.

  • Brain aneurysms

An aneurysm is formed when high blood pressure weakens the walls of the smaller arteries in your brain, causing them to bulge or swell. Any further increase in blood pressure can cause these aneurysms to leak blood into your brain or rupture. Ruptured aneurysms need immediate medical attention as they can cause death if left untreated. 

6.Sexual Dysfunction

High blood pressure causes stiff and narrow arteries, which can interfere with the blood flow to your reproductive organs. This can lead to erectile dysfunction in men and lowered libido in women along with other issues like vaginal dryness.

7.Osteoporosis

Several studies conducted over the years have shown a strong connection between high blood pressure and osteoporosis (a condition that makes your bones weak and brittle). Studies have suggested that hypertension can lead to a loss of bone density, which may be caused by altered calcium metabolism and uptake in your body. 

Research has noted that the levels of calcium excreted in the urine of people with hypertension are higher when compared to normal individuals. Thus, having high blood pressure can increase your chances of osteoporotic bone fractures (fractures of bones weakened by osteoporosis).

Along with the above complications, you may also experience mental health consequences of high blood pressure like stress, anxiety, and depression. High blood pressure can also cause several health risks in pregnant women and their unborn children.

How Can You Prevent the Complications of Hypertension?

You can avoid complications or lessen the effects of high blood pressure on your body by taking the following measures:

  • Keeping your blood pressure levels under 130/80 mmHg or a target range set by your doctor.
  • Keeping your total cholesterol levels under 200 mg/dL or a target range set by your doctor.
  • Keeping your glycosylated haemoglobin (HbA1c) levels under 6.5% or a target range set by your doctor.
  • Taking all the medications prescribed to you by your doctor and strictly following your treatment plan.
  • Quitting smoking.
  • Eating a low-sodium or DASH diet.
  • Exercising regularly (moderate-intensity) for at least 30 minutes a day or 150 minutes a week.
  • Getting at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night.
  • Managing stress in a healthy way through breathing exercises, yoga, etc.
  • Avoiding or limiting your alcohol and caffeine consumption.

When to See a Doctor?

You should consult a doctor if your blood pressure readings stay persistently above 140/90 mmHg despite following the treatment plan prescribed by your physician. Also, seek immediate medical attention if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Blurred vision or sudden loss of eyesight
  • Slurred speech or trouble speaking
  • Dizziness or loss of consciousness
  • Pain in your jaw, neck, back, or left arm
  • Sudden tightness of pain in the chest. 

Don’t Have Time To Read?

  • High blood pressure is known as the “silent killer” as it does not show any symptoms until your arteries and vital organs have sustained some damage.
  • Hypertension can damage the walls of your arteries, leading to the buildup of plaque. This can interfere with the blood flow to your organs.
  • Cardiovascular issues like coronary artery disease, heart attack, stroke, chest pain, heart failure, and peripheral artery disease, are all the effects of high blood pressure left uncontrolled. These conditions affect the function of your blood vessels, heart, and blood flow throughout your body.
  • High blood pressure can damage the small and delicate blood vessels that supply blood to your eyes. When the arteries that are connected to your retinas are damaged, it can cause visual problems like trouble seeing colours, blurred vision, or loss of eyesight.
  • Hypertension can damage the blood vessels in and around your kidneys, leading to conditions like chronic kidney disease (CKD) or kidney failure.
  • When the flow of blood and oxygen to your brain is affected due to hypertension, it can lead to cognitive issues like memory problems, trouble with concentration, judgement, etc. High BP can lead to vascular dementia and brain aneurysms when left untreated.
  • High blood pressure can cause erectile dysfunction in men and loss of libido in women.
  • Studies have shown that there is a connection between high blood pressure and increased excretion of calcium from your body. This has been linked to an increased incidence of osteoporosis in people with hypertension.
  • You can prevent the complications of hypertension by following the hypertension treatment plan prescribed by your doctor, keeping your blood sugar and cholesterol levels in check, eating a heart-healthy diet, exercising regularly, stopping smoking, relieving stress in a healthy way, and getting better sleep.
  • Use the Phable Care App to consult India’s leading cardiologists, order medicines, book lab tests, integrate BP monitors and other devices to get real-time remote care from the comfort of your home. Also, check out our Hypertension Management program which provides ‎360º care. Let’s treat high blood pressure problems together.

Frequently Asked Questions

Yes, uncontrolled high blood pressure can damage your blood vessels or heart, which can cause potentially serious conditions like stroke or a heart attack.

Hypertension can cause the arteries that supply blood and oxygen to your brain to become stiff and narrow. This can hamper blood and oxygen flow to your brain, which can increase your risk of developing conditions like dementia or Alzheimer’s. If the arteries that supply blood to your brain become clogged with plaque, high blood pressure can cause a part of the plaque to break off and form a blood clot. If the blood clot is large enough, it can partially or completely obstruct your blood vessels, cutting off the oxygen supply to your brain and causing a stroke.

Hypertension can damage your blood vessels along with major organs like your heart, kidneys, brain, and eyes.

The blood pressure reading before a stroke can differ from person to person. However, a blood pressure reading of 180/120 mmHg or above significantly increases your chances of having a stroke. This is known as a hypertensive crisis and requires immediate medical attention.

Dr. Pakhi Sharma
Dr. Pakhi Sharma, MBBS
(General physician, 6+ years)
An expert in obstetrics and medical emergencies, Dr. Pakhi Sharma, an alumni of Sri Devaraj Urs University of Higher Education and Research Centre, is a general physician working at Phablecare. She has 6+ years of work experience spread across gynaecology and obstetrics, family medicine, and medical emergencies at renowned hospitals and clinics.

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