Hypertension can cause permanent organ damage if not treated on time or properly. Due to high blood pressure and a narrowing of the blood vessels, organs such as the eyes, the heart, the kidneys, or the brain, can fail to function within normal parameters.
Hypertension and brain damage
The brain is a vital organ that depends on blood in order to survive. A person who has hypertension can eventually have the following brain-related problems:
- When the brain doesn’t receive the nutrients and oxygen it needs, that’s when a stroke happens. It is known that hypertension can affect the blood vessels, by both damaging and weakening them. When this occurs, the blood vessels can rupture, leak, or narrow. Blood clots may also appear, which make it even harder for blood to flow normally through the arteries.
- Transient ischemic attack is considered to be a pre-stroke. It’s characterized by a brief interruption in the brain’s blood supply. The typical “culprit" of a transient ischemic attack is a blood clot or atherosclerosis, both issues caused by high blood pressure. When doctors witness a patient suffering from a transient ischemic attack, they usually consider that the patient is at full risk of having a full-blown stroke.
- Mild cognitive impairment is a stage experienced between memory and understanding changes, characteristic of severe problems, such as Alzheimer's. It’s normally caused by damaged blood vessels which prevent blood from reaching the brain.
- Dementia encompasses a series of different impaired brain functions, and is characterized by issues such as memory loss, vision problems, difficulty in speaking and concentrating, lack of coordination, problems in speaking and thinking.
High blood pressure can affect the arteries in many different ways: by narrowing them, by causing blood clots to appear, by making them stiffer, and sometimes thicker. When blood is filled with fats, this can also cause the arteries to narrow. Some of the arteries which are affected by blood pressure are the one responsible with transporting blood to the brain. This organ needs a mix of nutrient and oxygen to function, otherwise its cells will suffer irreversible damage.
Dementia and high blood pressure
Dementia occurs when nerve cells and their brain connections have been damaged. The symptoms of dementia are different from one person to another, but they also depend on the part of the brain with the nerve cell damage.
It’s important to note that progressive dementia is irreversible, and can be categorized as follows:
- Vascular dementia, which is secondary in frequency only to Alzheimer's disease, can appear after the blood vessels transporting blood to the brain have been damaged. When there are problems with the blood vessels, they can affect the brain in many different ways, such as causing damage to the white matter fibers of the brain. Vascular dementia is typically followed by symptoms such as difficulty in organization, lack of focus, or slow thinking.
- Alzheimer's disease is the most common brain-related problem that causes dementia.
- Lewy body dementia is characterized by protein clumps that have a balloon-like shape. Lewy body dementia can manifest with signs that include hallucinations, tremor, or slow movements.
- Frontotemporal dementia is translated into nerve cell breakdown in the temporal and frontal lobes of the brain. This type of dementia will cause visible symptoms that affect movement, language, judgment and personality.
Complications of hypertension-related dementia
A person who suffers from dementia as a cause of high blood pressure, can end up having a series of other health complications, such as:
- Improper eating. Dementia is a brain condition which causes people to reduce the amount of food they eat. In a very advanced stage, people with dementia will refuse to eat altogether, the result being poor nutrition. In the final stages of dementia, patients can find it difficult to chew their food or swallow it.
- Dementia is a condition which progresses. As this happens, a person finds that they become unable to perform basic self-care tasks, such as going to the toilet, bathing, or dressing up. Patients will also forget or have trouble taking their own medication, so they will require around the clock assistance.
- Pneumonia is a health condition which can also be caused by dementia. When patients experience difficulties in swallowing, there are greater chances of them choking on bits of food. If this happens, food is aspirated into the lungs, which causes difficulty in breathing and, eventually, pneumonia.
- The ultimate stage of dementia is death, typically caused by infection.
Many forms of dementia are considered to be irreversible, but certain medications can be used to slow down the symptoms and the progression of this disease.
- Cholinesterase inhibitors work to improve certain brain functions, such as judgment and memory. These inhibitors are normally prescribed for those who have Alzheimer's, but they can also be useful for those who suffer from vascular dementia caused by high blood pressure.
- Memantine is good for improving learning and memory. It regulates the activity of a chemical found in the brain, known as glutamate.
A person who suffers from dementia will most likely need a caregiver at some point. If have a friend or a relative who suffers from dementia, communication is really important. You will have to adapt the way you communication, slow down your talking speed, and use gestures to help them understand.
It’s also important to engage in activities that they like, whether it’s dancing or playing video games. The quality of life of a person who suffer from dementia is subject to progressive decline, so making everything as pleasant as possible for them will make the transition a bit easier.