Many people have hypertension, or high blood pressure, without knowing it. In the United States, about 50 million people age six and older have high blood pressure. Hypertension is more common in men than women and in people over the age of 65 than in younger persons. More than half of all Americans over the age of 65 have high blood pressure.
Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of arteries as it flows through them. Arteries are the blood vessels that carry oxygenated blood from the heart to the body’s tissues. As blood flows through arteries it pushes against the inside of the artery walls. The more pressure the blood exerts on the artery walls, the higher the blood pressure will be. Hypertension is a major health problem, especially because it has no symptoms. Getting regular blood pressure checks and treating hypertension as soon as it is diagnosed can avoid serious complications.
If left untreated, hypertension can lead to the following medical conditions:
- Arteriosclerosis also called atherosclerosis
- Enlarged heart
- Kidney damage
Arteriosclerosis is the hardening of the arteries. The walls of arteries have a layer of muscle and elastic tissue that makes them flexible and able to dilate and constrict as blood flows through them. High blood pressure can make the artery walls thicken and harden. When artery walls thicken, the inside of the blood vessel narrows. Cholesterol and fats are more likely to build upon the walls of damaged arteries, making them even narrower. Blood clots can also get trapped in narrowed arteries, blocking the flow of blood.
Arteries narrowed by arteriosclerosis may not deliver enough blood to organs and other tissues. Reduced or blocked blood flow to the heart can cause a heart attack. If an artery to the brain is blocked, a stroke can result.
Hypertension makes the heart work harder to pump blood through the body. The extra workload can make the heart muscle thicken and stretch. When the heart becomes too enlarged it cannot pump enough blood. If the hypertension is not treated, the heart may fail.
How does high blood pressure effect kidneys?
The kidneys remove the body’s wastes from the blood. If hypertension thickens the arteries to the kidneys, less waste can be filtered from the blood. As the condition worsens, the kidneys fail and wastes build up in the blood. Dialysis or a kidney transplant is needed when the kidneys fail. About 25% of people who receive kidney dialysis have kidney failure caused by hypertension.