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No Signs, But Lots of Damage: How High Blood Pressure Affects Your Body

By , FACC, FACOI, Virtua Cardiology

Do you know what it feels like to have high blood pressure? Probably not.

That’s because high blood pressure, or hypertension, quietly damages your body for years without producing any outward symptoms. While some people may experience headaches, problems breathing, or nosebleeds, these signs usually don’t occur until your hypertension reaches severe levels.

In fact, many people are unaware they have high blood pressure until they experience a severe cardiovascular event, like a heart attack or stroke.

What is important to know are the effects uncontrolled high blood pressure has on your body. High blood pressure can:

  • Damage your blood vessels. High blood pressure can damage the inner lining of our arteries, causing them to become narrowed and less elastic, limiting blood flow. A section of a weakened artery also can form a bulge, or aneurysm. A ruptured aneurysm can be life threatening.
  • Damage your heart. Limited blood flow can cause a heart attack, chest pain (angina), or irregular heart rhythms. Your heart has to work harder to pump blood to the rest of your body, weakening it over time and possibly leading to heart failure.
  • Increase your risk for a stroke. Just as damage from hypertension can limit blood flow to your heart, it can do the same to the vessels leading to your brain. If blood flow to your brain becomes blocked, you can have a stroke. Studies also suggest hypertension can lead to mild cognitive impairment.
  • Reduce your kidney’s ability to function. Weakened blood vessels leading to and inside your kidneys can reduce their ability to filter waste and fluid from your blood. Over time, this can lead to kidney failure.
  • Lead to blurred or complete loss of vision.
  • Cause sexual dysfunction.

Stay in Control

Family history, age, race, and gender all may play a role in whether you develop high blood pressure. But there are things you can do to lower your risk. They include:

  • Understand and know your numbers. Have your blood pressure checked regularly and during your physical exams. Talk to your doctor whether you should monitor your blood pressure at home as well.
  • Don’t smoke or vape.
  • Make smart food choices. Eat a heart-healthy, Mediterranean-style diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Choose foods that are low in animal and trans fats, salt (sodium), cholesterol, and added sugars.
  • Manage your stress. Exercise, meditation, yoga, tai chi, and deep breathing are all effective ways to relax and keep your stress in check.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Be physically active every day.
  • Limit alcohol use.

By recognizing your risk factors and taking steps to live a healthy lifestyle, you can lower your likelihood of developing high blood pressure and its complications down the road.

Virtua cardiologists are in your neighborhood and can often see you within 48 hours. To make an appointment, call 888-847-8823.

Updated September 15, 2020

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