Outcomes of untreated high blood pressure

Wednesday March 6 2013

By TABITHA MWANGI

“Blood pressure” is the force of blood pushing against the walls of the arteries as the heart pumps blood. If this pressure rises, a condition known as high blood pressure or hypertension arises. However, hypertension is an illness with no symptoms.

A person can live with high blood pressure for years without being aware of it and during this time the blood vessels and heart are being slowly damaged.

Untreated high blood pressure can result in various deadly outcomes through a number of mechanisms.

First, the weakening of blood vessel walls due to the high pressure can result in an aneurysm, which is an abnormal bulge in the wall of an artery.

Common spots for aneurysms are the main artery that carries blood from the heart to the body; the arteries in the brain, legs, and intestines; and the artery leading to the spleen. These blood vessels can rupture and bleed. When this occurs in the brain, this can result in a stroke. The damage of blood vessel in the eyes can lead to vision changes or blindness.

Second, the force on the blood vessels cause injury to blood vessels which either leads to narrowing of the vessels, due to the healing process or formation of blood clots which can block blood vessels.

Narrowed or blocked vessels lead to a shortage of blood supply to essential organs like the heart, brain, kidney and legs. If this happens in the brain, the result is a stroke, while in the heart, this leads to pain in the chest or angina which may result in a full blown heart attack.

Kidney arteries can also be blocked, leading to kidney failure. Blocked arteries in the legs may lead to loss of circulation and even amputations.

Third and insidiously deadly, is the long term impact of an overworked heart. Untreated high blood pressure overworks the heart and the heart muscle grows to keep up with the extra work load.

The heart can however only grow so much and eventually the heart’s own arteries are unable to supply it with blood. The heart muscle then fails to get the energy it needs and is unable to do its work. Like an overstretched athlete, the heart slows down and finally stops. A situation called heart failure.

All these outcomes can be prevented if high blood pressure is detected and treated early.