Common Complications of High Blood Pressure

Kidney damage and heart attacks are among hypertension's serious effects

High blood pressure is associated with several potentially dangerous complications. From kidney damage to heart attack, avoiding the long-term side effects of hypertension means working to control your blood pressure. Learn more about the most common long-term risks and complications of high blood pressure.

1

Heart Attack

High blood pressure raises the risk of heart attacks and increases the likelihood that a heart attack if one occurs, will be severe.

Heart attacks are caused by an interruption of blood flow through the coronary arteries, which supply the heart muscle with oxygen and nutrients. The blockages in the arteries are made of fat, cholesterol, and a type of cell called a macrophage. While the link between high blood pressure and coronary artery disease is still being investigated, evidence suggests that chronic elevations in blood pressure contribute to damage and inflammation in the walls of blood vessels. This damage and inflammation attract macrophages which, in turn, provide a "sticky" place where fats and cholesterol are more likely to adhere, leading to the development of blockages.

2

Stroke

Strokes, like heart attacks, are caused by an interruption of blood flow. In the case of stroke, the interruption is in the brain. When blood flow to the brain is interrupted, the areas of the brain depending on that blood are damaged. Sometimes strokes, like heart attacks, happen because a blood vessel becomes clogged and blood cannot flow past the blockage. In other cases, a small blood vessel can actually rupture, and flow is reduced because the blood leaks out of the vessel. High blood pressure increases the risk of both of these events.

3

Kidney Damage

The kidneys are the body’s most important long-term blood pressure regulators. They are also sensitive to the effects of increased blood pressure, which damages the sensitive filters responsible for regulating the amount of fluid in the body. Kidney damage and high blood pressure are a self-reinforcing circle: High blood pressure causes damage which, in turn, leads to even higher blood pressure. Kidney damage is one of the most dangerous long-term complications of high blood pressure.

4

Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation is a type of arrhythmia or disorganized heartbeat. While atrial fibrillation causes changes in the pumping efficiency of the heart—which affects blood flow throughout the body—it also changes blood flow within the heart itself and provides a set of conditions that can favor the formation of tiny blood clots. These blood clots then get pumped out into the body, where they can get stuck in the tiny blood vessels that supply the brain. This leads to an interruption of blood flow through the blocked vessel, which can cause a stroke. High blood pressure changes the pumping dynamics of the heart and can cause the heart to grow and stretch, favoring the development of atrial fibrillation.

5

Heart Failure

Hypertension is a major cause of heart failure. High pressures in the blood vessels chronically increases the work of the heart muscle. This extra cardiac stress can lead both to left ventricular hypertrophy and weakening of the heart muscle. Eventually, a person with hypertension can develop one of two kinds of heart failure — congestive heart failure, or diastolic heart failure.

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