Why Is High Blood Pressure Dangerous?

Why Is Hypertension Dangerous?

High blood pressure (hypertension) means the heart has to work excessively hard to pump blood through the arteries in the body. Some variations in blood pressure are normal and unavoidable, even in women in top health. But when blood pressure is persistently and abnormally high, serious damage can be caused to vital organs including the heart, brain and kidneys. Hypertension is caused by the arteries becoming narrower as their wall muscles thicken (atherosclerosis), making it more difficult for blood to flow through them. The result is that the heart has to work harder to produce more pressure than is normally needed to keep up a steady and adequate flow of blood around the body. This extra pressure can eventually damage the artery walls if it is prolonged, possibly speeding up the process of atherosclerosis, in which fatty deposits, or plaques, form on the lining of artery walls. This may cause a further narrowing of the arteries and increase the possibility of blood clotting.

The Dangers Of High Blood Pressure

Without blood pressure treatment some serious health risks can arise: including angina attacks, heart attack, stroke and damage to the kidneys. In fact it is estimated that if diastolic blood pressure could be lowered in general by just 5-6 mm Hg, there would be 25 percent fewer deaths from heart disease. One of the greatest dangers is if you have high blood pressure but it goes unnoticed and undiagnosed since, contrary to popular belief, it doesn't always cause symptoms (see signs of hypertension). This is why it is called a silent killer. If you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, you may be advised to reduce the fat and salt in your diet, to give up smoking, drink only in moderation, stay fit with regular exercise, and find ways of relaxing and dealing effectively with stress. In cases of sustained hypertension, high blood pressure medication is likely to be needed, probably long term. See, how effective are blood pressure drugs?

Measuring Blood Pressure

Your doctor records your blood pressure measurement as two separate readings. The first is recorded when blood pressure is at its highest, that is when the heart muscle pumps out blood. This is called the systolic pressure. The second, and lower, reading - known as the diastolic pressure - is recorded when the heart relaxes between beats. The readings are usually written in the form of a fraction with the systolic measurement given on the top and the diastolic underneath (120/70, for example). See our article, blood pressure reading to find out what a healthy reading should be. See also home blood pressure monitors to record your levels on a more regular basis.

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• Need more information? See: Guide to High Blood Pressure
• Got another question? See: Womens Health Questions

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