The Dangers of High Blood Pressure

The Dangers of High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a common condition in American adults. It’s important to know if your blood pressure is elevated, because it’s often asymptomatic. It’s a silent killer, contributing to hundreds of thousands of deaths every year.  

Here, our board-certified physicians at Bethel Family Medicine in Brockton, Massachusetts, explain the dangers of high blood pressure and offer common-sense tips you can use to lower your blood pressure and your risk of dangerous complications. 

Understanding high blood pressure

Your blood pressure is the measure of the force of your blood hitting against the walls of your arteries when your heart pumps it through your body. If your blood pressure readings are above 120/80 mmHg, your pressure is at an elevated level, meaning it’s not yet hypertension, but it’s inching closer to the danger zone:

Elevated blood pressure can lead to stage 1 hypertension, which is defined as:

Untreated stage 1 hypertension can lead to stage 2, where readings start at this point:

Researchers estimate that about half of people with elevated blood pressure don’t know they have it. It often doesn’t cause symptoms until the damage is done.

Dangers of high blood pressure

What are the dangers of high blood pressure — or any blood pressure reading that’s higher than normal? There are many. 

Higher risk of heart disease 

Over time, the continuous pressure can cause your arteries to become narrower and less elastic, leading to atherosclerosis, where plaque builds up and restricts blood flow. Your heart has to pump harder to do its work, and you increase your risk of serious (even fatal) conditions like heart attack, stroke, and heart failure. 

Organ damage 

The condition can lead to kidney disease or kidney failure. It can damage blood vessels in your retina, causing vision loss or even blindness. Hypertension is also a leading cause of vascular dementia, which affects cognitive function.

Blood pressure spikes (hypertensive crisis)

When your blood pressure is high, it can spike quickly, leading to a hypertensive crisis, which means systolic readings higher than 180 mmHg and diastolic readings higher than 120 mmHg. When this happens, you’re at immediate risk of organ damage or even death. 

Your symptoms can include severe headaches, shortness of breath, chest pain, vomiting, or confusion. If this occurs, you need urgent medical attention.

Mental health impacts 

The stress of knowing you have hypertension may cause anxiety. Conversely, unmanaged anxiety can increase your risk of hypertension.

Lifestyle modifications reduce your health risks 

You have a role to play in maintaining your health. Following are time-tested strategies to help manage and lower your blood pressure. 

Eat healthily 

You already know how important it is to limit saturated fats, extra sodium, fried foods, and sugary sweets. Fill half of your dinner plate with fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables. Add whole grains and lean protein like poultry and fish. The DASH diet can help inform your dietary choices to lower blood pressure.

Get regular exercise

Your Bethel Family Medicine physician recommends getting regular exercise to keep your heart and blood vessels strong and healthy. Exercise, especially when you do it at least 30 minutes per day, can lower your blood pressure by as much as 8 mmHg. Find an activity you like, and stick with it. 

Don’t smoke and limit alcohol 

Even one drink per day over a period of time can raise your blood pressure. Every cigarette you smoke raises your blood pressure. Eventually, smoking narrows your arteries, making clots and other heart-related events more likely. 

Manage stress

Stress raises your blood pressure. Over time, continuous spikes put you at risk of a heart event. Find a stress reliever that works for you — meditation, deep breathing, yoga, exercise, or hobbies — to minimize the effect of stress on your blood pressure.

Get an annual physical every year 

At every health visit, we check your blood pressure and help you make changes necessary to safely lower it. If it’s high, medication and lifestyle changes can get it under control. Your doctor also helps you manage underlying or comorbid conditions (like diabetes) that may contribute to or exacerbate hypertension.

Call Bethel Family Medicine today for an appointment if you have a health concern. Our mission is your good health. 

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