The Insidious Nature of High Blood Pressure
High Blood Pressure - HBP (hypertension - HTN) is the leading cause of premature death worldwide¹. In Canada, despite the highest treatment rates in the world, the prevalence of hypertension and the number of people who have uncontrolled HTN continues to rise².
It is frequently called: “the silent killer” because there is no pain and there are no symptoms specific to hypertension. But even though you aren’t aware of it, HBP is working against you all the time and the health effects are wide ranging and potentially life threatening. This article is the first of two blogs intended as a brief overview of the deleterious effects arising from uncontrolled high blood pressure, including some that you might not associate with the condition.
Our starting point is a very basic explanation of how our blood pressure increases in the first place. For most people the onset of HTN develops with age. When we are young our arteries (the blood vessels that carry oxygen rich blood to our muscles and organs) are robust, elastic and smooth. Blood flows unencumbered throughout our bodies. As we age, arteries become less supple and plaque begins to form on the interior walls. The rate of deterioration is generally determined by our genetics, cardiovascular fitness, and diet. Overtime, the result is a narrowing of these blood vessels and our BP rises because we are pumping the same volume of blood through narrower arteries. The good news is that the condition can be controlled and even reversed in many cases.
It is worth mentioning that the only way to determine whether you have hypertension or uncontrolled blood pressure is to measure it accurately, and often. If you measure at home on a regular basis, the threshold numbers are >135/85mmHg. Measurements taken in the clinic define hypertension at somewhat higher levels: > 140/90mmHg. If you have diabetes > 130/80mmHg is recognized as the threshold.
Increased Rates of Dementia – The build up of plaque in arteries can restrict the flow of oxygenated blood and nutrients to your brain. This can impact thought processes including: reasoning, memory and judgment.
Interruption of Sex Life – High blood pressure can affect libido and performance for both sexes. In men Erectile Dysfunction (ED) – “ED” is a common side effect of HTN affecting 49% of men between the ages of 40 and 79³. Less blood flow throughout the body includes the penis. Some drugs that treat HTN can also cause ED. Women with HBP may have less blood flow to their pelvic area and vagina. The common outcomes are lower libido and lower interest. Less blood flow can result in less pleasure and interest during intercourse.
Kidney Disease – Our kidneys employ “nephrons” to filter waste and fluids. Nephrons rely on a good flow of blood with oxygen and nutrients to perform optimally. With HTN, as arteries around the kidneys narrow, blood flow is restricted and the kidney loses the ability to filter blood and regulate fluid. This situation is complicated because kidneys play a role in regulating blood pressure. The decline is normally a gradual one, but can result in kidney failure if HTN remains uncontrolled⁴.
Eyesight Problems – Medically referred to as: “hypertensive retinopathy”. The retina is a layer of tissue at the back of your eye that transforms light into nerve signals that are interpreted in the brain. HBP can cause blood vessels to restrict blood flow to the retina and restrict its function. The restriction can cause eye swelling and vision issues. Like other health effects of HTN, it is progressive and the result of too much pressure within the arteries.
Awareness of these conditions is well recognized by many Canadians. But hypertension as the underlying cause being may not be as well known. What is clear is that uncontrolled high blood pressure affects us in a variety of ways. You might not be able to “feel” high blood pressure, but if you are experiencing any of the symptoms described in this article, contact a healthcare professional for more investigation and treatment.
If you’ve been diagnosed with hypertension, make sure you measure your blood pressure at home so that you understand your average blood pressure level. Watch for part 2 of this blog for information on the potential life threatening outcomes from uncontrolled high blood pressure.
Author: Mark Beaton. Sr. Vice President of Marketing, BIOS Medical
- World Health Organization – Factsheet: The top 10 causes of death
- The Epidemiology of Hypertension in Canada: An update; Raj Padwall. The Canadian Journal of Cardiology, May 2016
- The sexual function of men 40 to 79: The Olmsted County Study of urinary symptoms and health status among men. 43:1107-1111. 1995 Journal of American Geriatrics Society
- Heart.org : How High blood pressure leads to Kidney Disease