Understanding the Causes and Effects of High Blood Pressure
If you’ve been told you have high blood pressure you should be thankful for a timely diagnosis. For many people their high blood pressure goes undiagnosed years, and this can be a very dangerous situation.
Essential or primary hypertension
It’s thought that more than 9 in 10 people with high blood pressure have ‘primary hypertension,’ which means that there’s no single clear cause of it.
However, it is known that certain factors in your lifestyle can contribute to developing the conditions, including:
- Your family history
- Your age
- Being of Afro-Caribbean or South Asian origin
- Being overweight or obese
- Having an unhealthy diet
- Drinking alcohol - especially if you binge drink
- Lack of exercise
Around 1 in 20 people with high blood pressure have ‘secondary hypertension’. This means it’s linked to another cause, for example:
- Kidney conditions such as kidney infection or kidney disease
- Endocrine disease
- Narrowing of the arteries
- Certain medicines such as the contraceptive pill and nonsteriodal anti-inflammatory drugs (such as ibuprofen)
- Chronic alcohol abuse
- Illegal drugs such as cocaine, amphetamine and crystal meth
- Pregnancy (may cause pre-eclampsia)
Because most people don’t experience any symptoms with high blood pressure it may go undiagnosed for some time.
This is one reason why regular check-ups with your doctor are so important.
Complications of high blood pressure
High blood pressure can quietly damage your body for years before symptoms develop.
Let’s take a closer look at the complications high blood pressure may cause if it’s not effectively controlled:
- Damage to arteries - arteriosclerosis, atherosclerosis, aneurysm
- Damage to heart - coronary artery disease, enlarged heart, heart failure.Damage to brain - transient ischemic attack, stroke, dementia, mild cognitive impairment
- Damage to kidneys - kidney failure, kidney scarring, kidney artery aneurysm
- Damage to eyes - eye blood vessel damage, fluid build up in the retina, nerve damage
The complications of having untreated high blood pressure are very serious indeed, however if your blood pressure is well controlled, you’re more likely to keep the most severe problems at bay.
So, what can you do to prevent high blood pressure?If you’re a middle aged or older adult you should be having regular health check-ups with your doctor. This way treatment can begin before any complications arise.
Try to change your lifestyle for the better, including:
- Stopping smoking
- Losing weight if necessary
- Exercising regularly
- Cutting down your alcohol intake
- Eating a balanced diet
- Reducing your stress levels
Lifestyle changes will help to lower high blood pressure, but do bear in mind you may also require further medical treatment.
Melanie is a dietitian and writer. She wrote for HeatlhCentral as a health professional for Food & Nutrition and Heart Health.