Hypertension is a very dangerous condition, because it can put a strain on your arteries and your heart without you even knowing it. When hypertension is left untreated, it can cause permanent heart or kidney damage, increase the odds for a stroke or a heart attack.
1. Artery damage
Arteries are the blood vessels inside your body that help transport blood from your heart to all the other organs that need it. These vessels have an inner lining, and are strong enough to push the blood into the direction in which it needs to go.
When a person suffers from hypertension, the function of the arteries is changed. Blood that flows with extra pressure can cause damage to the artery walls, causing the lining to tear. Within these tearings, there is normally an accumulation of plaque. This is were fatty bits get caught up, causing restrictions in blood flow.
Sometimes, when the artery walls are damaged, they can stretch and become swollen, like a balloon. In the medical world, this bump is referred to as an aneurysm, which is at risk of breaking open and bleeding.
2. Heart damage
The heart and brain are at the very core of the human body. If you suffer from high blood pressure, there is risk of permanent heart damage unless you treat this condition in time. As far as the heart is concerned, there are three main problems that may occur due to high blood pressure:
- Arrhythmia is a condition characterized by irregular heart beats. Whether it’s too fast (tachycardia) or too slow (bradycardia), a person with arrhythmia has a heart beating out of the normal rhythm. In some cases, this condition is silent and doesn’t show any visible symptoms. Because of that, they can either be urgent or harmless. People who notice irregular heart beats should consult a doctor immediately.
- Angina is another heart-related condition that may arise as a consequence of hypertension. Angina is normally characterized by chest pain, which is a result of your heart not receiving sufficient blood flow to function normally. This usually happens because blood vessels are clogged, particularly those that transport oxygen-rich blood to the heart. In some cases, angina passes quickly, but in others, it can be life-threatening.
- Heart attacks are one of the major dangers that can be caused by high blood pressure. Aside from receiving blood, the heart also needs a dose of oxygen to keep its cells alive. Heart attacks may appear when the artery walls are filled with plaque, interrupting the proper amount of blood flow from circulating inside the vessels. If a piece of the plaque inside the vessels breaks off, there will usually be a blood clot formed around it. As this blocks the vessel and the blood flow, the risk of heart attack appears.
3. Brain damage
Much like every other vital organ inside your body, the brain depends on a proper blood supply to work normally. When a person suffers from hypertension, they are at risk of developing brain-related conditions that could lead to permanent damage:
- Strokes are a common form of brain damage resulting from untreated hypertension. People who experience a stroke have their brain deprived of nutrients and oxygen, which kills the brain’s cells. Hypertension can prevent the brain from receiving the proper supply of blood, thus exposing patients to the risk of stroke.
- Dementia is also a condition that may arise due to untreated hypertension. A person with dementia will experience altered cognition and other brain functions, such as an inability to focus, memory loss episodes, difficulty in thinking and speaking, and even impaired movement. Dementia comes in many forms, and is categories according to its cause. For instance, a person with vascular dementia has the blood vessels narrowed, therefore preventing the brain from receiving enough blood.
- TIA (transient ischemic attack) is a "mini-stroke" characterized by a brief interruption of blood supply to the brain. Medically speaking, a TIA is considered a sign that a person is at risk of a full-blown stroke, caused by blood clots in the arteries that supply blood to the brain.
4. Kidney damage
Sadly, kidney damage is quite common in people who suffer from severe form of hypertension. Permanent kidney damage can include:
- Kidney scarring, which is a condition referred to as glomerulosclerosis (tiny blood vessel clusters that reside inside the kidneys and help them filter waste and fluid from your bloodstream).
- Kidney failure, which is a result of the aforementioned kidney scarring. When the glomeruli are affected, there can be a dangerous build-up of fluid and waste inside the blood, leading to kidney failure.
- Kidney aneurysms are caused by a bump in the artery walls that supply your kidneys with blood. The condition is also known as renal artery aneurysm.
5. Eye damage
It is not uncommon for high blood pressure to affect the vessels that supply blood to the eyes. When that happens, it can have a drastic impact on your eyes, such as:
- Retinopathy, which is eye blood vessel damage in the retina. Retinopathy can cause bleeding spots in the eyes, but also vision impairment and loss.
- Choroidopathy is characterized by fluid build-up under the retina. Under your retina, there is an entire network of blood vessels and, if they leak, you can end up with distorted vision.
- Optic neuropathy is nerve damage caused by interruptions in the blood flow supply of your eyes. The consequence is dead nerve cells in the eyes, which can lead to vision loss and eye bleeding.
Because high blood pressure can affect nearly any aspect of your health, timely diagnosis and treatment are particularly important.