Did you know that from aneurysms to osteoporosis, from head to toe, high blood pressure (aka hypertension) can affect your entire body?
Hypertension occurs when the blood travels through the blood vessels with a force that is bodily unhealthy, and the repeated damage of your blood vessels can lead to varying problems in different organ systems.
With its increased prevalence, it’s important to understand exactly how it can lead to further complications. According to a study done by the GBD, hypertension was the cause for 1.63 million deaths in the year 2016 in India. The same study showed that over half of the deaths were caused by heart disease, stroke and kidney disease, all caused by high systolic blood pressure in the body.
We’ve talked about systolic and diastolic blood pressure in detail in a previous article, but basically, systolic blood pressure is the pressure exerted when the heart beats and pumps blood through the body. Diastolic BP is the pressure exerted by the blood while moving through the vessels, in between heartbeats. For an average adult, the blood pressure reading is considered normal if it is below 120/80 mm Hg.
In most cases, high blood pressure doesn’t exhibit apparent symptoms until it has affected other organ systems in the body. This is the reason why constant monitoring is required to stay aware of your vitals and your health.
How hypertension affects the circulatory system
Undiagnosed blood pressure can cause damages such as tears to the arteries. This can lead to bad cholesterol attaching itself to the artery walls, narrowing them further and making it harder for the blood to pump through. When the heart has to work so hard to pump the blood, it can cause chest pain, irregular heartbeat and in some cases, heart attacks.
High blood pressure can also cause an enlargement in the left ventricle of the heart because it has to work harder to pump blood out. This condition can increase the risk of heart attack and heart failure.
When repeated instances of heart-attacks happen, the heart becomes too weak to pump blood through the body and can lead to heart failure.
High BP can also cause bulging within the circulatory system. This can occur at any damaged artery within the body and is called an aneurysm. This will keep growing until it causes severe pain or even bursts. If any major artery ruptures, the results can be fatal. An aneurysm can occur at any artery within the body but is usually seen in the body’s largest artery – the aorta.
How hypertension affects the nervous system
When the body experiences high blood pressure, the reduced blood flow can lead to problems with memory and cognition. Over time, this could even lead to dementia. When the vessels in the brain experience damage and blocks occur within, it can lead to stroke. The reduced amount of oxygen can also cause brain cells to get damaged.
Lowered blood pressure can potentially cause mini-strokes (Transient Ischemic Attack) which are temporary disruption of blood flow to the brain. This is usually caused by the hardened arteries, and are indicative of a full-blown stroke to come. A stroke usually occurs when the brain has been experiencing a lack of oxygen and nutrients for a longer period and leading to the death of brain cells.
How hypertension affects the ocular system
Due to high blood pressure, the eyes may also get affected, leading to conditions like blurriness or blindness due to the arteries that are bleeding. The blood vessels in the eye are extremely delicate and the increased blood pressure can pose major damage to them which can further damage the retina.
This can lead to bleeding in the eyes, blurred vision or even complete loss of vision. Hypertension could also lead to the increased fluid buildup in the eyes causing distorted vision. There is also a risk for nerve damage to the optic nerve because of the lack of blood flow.
How hypertension impacts the skeletal system
When the body experiences high blood pressure, there is also an increased chance of people losing calcium through their urine. This is a state known as osteoporosis. This condition can weaken the skeletal structure and make people’s bodies more susceptible to fractures and such.
How hypertension impacts the respiratory system
Just like all the other organ systems in the body, the respiratory system can also be impacted by high blood pressure and suffer damage. When a blockage happens in the artery that takes blood to your lungs it’s called a pulmonary embolism and requires immediate medical attention to prevent further complications.
Having high blood pressure can also lead to sleep disorders like sleep apnea which has symptoms such as loud snoring and breathing interruptions during sleep. These symptoms will make the patients experience poor quality sleep and they will wake up without feeling rested.
The disrupted breathing due to sleep apnea can further lower the blood oxygen level and even lead to hypoxia and its related problems.
How hypertension impacts the reproductive system
High blood pressure and the ensuing blockage caused by it can cause several sexual dysfunctions within the body. Normally, the sexual organs need extra blood flow during arousal, and with high BP this can get affected, leading to lower sex drive, decreased arousal, and even having trouble attaining orgasm.
How hypertension impacts the urinary system
Kidneys are the waste disposal system of the body that ensures the waste products are filtered out of the body. But high blood pressure can damage the blood vessels leading to the kidneys and lead to conditions where the kidney becomes scarred and unable to filter waste effectively.
High blood pressure can also lead to kidney failure where damaged blood vessels disrupt the filtering process of the kidney and allow dangerously high levels of fluids and waste to accumulate in the body. This will ultimately require dialysis or a kidney transplant.
When to seek help
A lot of the time, high blood pressure goes unnoticed until it has affected other bodily systems. As a chronic condition, it gradually causes damage to the body over several years. But there are certain symptoms to look out for if you are hypertensive. This will ensure that you get the help that you need at the right time.
These symptoms are:
- Chest pain
- Memory loss, excessive irritability or personality changes
- Sudden loss of kidney function
- Blurred or distorted vision or even blindness.
In case you or a loved one experiences any of these symptoms, you should seek immediate help from a doctor.
The risk factors of hypertension develop over years, so the sooner you start eating better, exercising regularly, giving up on habits like smoking and drinking, the sooner your body can try to repair itself.
You should also ensure that you are proactive in taking care of your health. You should start by learning how to track your own BP and keep a timeline of this over the months. Tracking your BP consistently in between doctor visits can go a long way in helping them understand exactly how your body is faring to their recommended treatments so that they can make adjustments accordingly.
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