Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)

How does Hypertension happen?

The walls of arteries are highly elastic, made up of layers of elastic fibres. Their design allows them to expand and contract with the changes in pressure (Systolic and Diastolic Blood Pressure) associated with blood flow, ensuring a constant smooth delivery of oxygen and nutrients to smaller blood vessels within your brain, organs, muscles and tissue. As we become older, these elastic fibres can become stiff, reducing their ability to expand. This process leads to a gradual increase in Systolic and Diastolic Blood Pressure.

Apart from the natural aging process, if the blood pressure in your arteries becomes elevated due to certain lifestyle or medical reasons and stays at this higher pressure, it can cause small tears along the inside of the arterial walls. The injured tissue swells and healing substances such as white blood cells collect around the tears to promote healing. Fat and cholesterol travelling within the blood may also attach to these swollen injury sites, slowly building up a plaque. This plaque thickens and hardens the inner surface of the artery limiting the circulation of blood and oxygen, a condition called Atherosclerosis.

Killer consequences

Atherosclerosis can have dangerous consequences. If a plaque bursts, a blood clot forms on top of the rupture site further obstructing blood flow. If the clot becomes large enough, it can completely block the flow of blood leading to killer consequences;

Heart Attack – A blockage within the arteries supplying blood to heart muscle (coronary arteries), will cause a heart attack as heart muscle is starved of oxygen and slowly starts to die.

Stroke – If a clot cuts off the blood supply to a part of the brain, brain cells become damaged due to lack of oxygen and begin to die. This is called a stroke and can lead to brain injury, disability or possibly death.

Other consequences of high blood pressure

  1. Remodelling of the Left Ventricle (Left Ventricular Hypertrophy)

    As with any other muscle in the body, if you train a muscle to work harder it adapts and remodels to become thicker and stronger. The same is true of heart muscle, if it needs to contract against a persistently higher Systolic Blood Pressure it will remodel to become thicker and stronger, a condition called Left Ventricular Hypertrophy.

  2. Left Ventricular Dysfunction and Heart Failure

    Even if the heart does remodel to have Left Ventricular Hypertrophy, over time the muscle with become tired and weaken from continuously working at high pressures. Gradually the Left Ventricle will not contract normally, and the volume of blood pumped from the heart each heartbeat will be reduced. This condition is referred to as Left Ventricular Dysfunction and ultimately leads to Heart Failure.

    Heart failure has a dramatic effect on a person’s quality of life. A weakened heart will reduce your ability to play sports, exercise or at its more advanced stages limit your ability to simply walk.

  3. Dementia

    High blood pressure as a leading cause of vascular dementia, which occurs when there is a problem with the blood supply to an area of your brain. Over time high blood pressure damages the structure and function of cerebral blood vessels leading to brain cell damage critical for normal brain function. This can lead to problems with concentration, personality changes and the ability to live an independent life.

  4. Kidney Failure

    Not only will High Blood Pressure damage the blood vessels within the kidney, but it will also damage the kidney filtering units. Gradually the kidneys ability to remove excess fluids and wastes from your blood will be reduced leading to an increase of fluid retention in your blood vessels – this is often referred to as water retention.

    There are usually no symptoms of kidney damage in the early stages. As the damage continues people often experience symptoms of tiredness, shortness of breath, swollen feet, ankles, legs or hands (Oedema), and eventually blood in your urine.

  5. Vision problems

    High Blood Pressure can also damage the delicate blood vessels supplying your eyes. Any damage caused to the light-sensitive area at the back of an eye (Retina) can lead to bleeding, blurred vision or worse, permanent irreparable loss of vision.

Symptoms

High Blood Pressure typically has no symptoms.

The following can be associated with High Blood Pressure:

– Headaches

– Nosebleeds

– Blurred vision / Dizziness

– Shortness of breath

– Chest Discomfort / Tightness / Pain

When should I go see my doctor?

If you have any concerns about your blood pressure or general health, please consult with your local family doctor.

Active Heart Health aims to alert you to potential silent killers which would need to be investigated further by your family doctor or cardiologist.

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