Hypertension along with diabetes has become one of the most dreaded chronic illnesses in India. To understand the disease we first need to understand the basics of blood pressure. Our blood flows through our arteries with pressure. This pressure is determined by the pumping of the heart as well as resistance to the flow of blood by the arteries. Due to genetics, high cholesterol or other reasons, the wall of the blood vessels get thickened leading to increased resistance for the blood to flow. Due to this, even the heart has to pump harder. This causes the blood pressure to go up causing hypertension. All the complications mainly stem from thickening of the vessel walls, leading to reduced blood flow to different body parts. Some of the more serious complications of hypertension include:
Coronary artery disease (CAD): Elevated blood pressure makes the arteries (blood carrying vessels) thick and narrow and damage their lining (endothelium). This acts as a starting point for the formation of a clot which can grow and this block the blood supply to the heart. When there isn’t enough blood supply to the heart, its efficiency is reduced and the tissues are damaged leading to angina (chest pain). The tendency to develop coronary artery disease is more if you have other risk factors like diabetes, obesity and family history.
Heart failure: When the blood pressure is high it increases the workload of the heart and the heart has to pump the blood against this elevated pressure and in this process the heart has the work more. The heart pays the price of this hard work by thickening its muscle wall especially the left ventricle and many times this thick heart(hypertrophied) may not be able to pump enough blood to the different organs thus compromising the body needs and eventually leading to heart failure.
Brain haemorrhage (stroke): Hypertension increases the risk of brain haemorrhage by almost 10 times. It weakens the small vessels in the brain causing them to rupture. In fact high BP is responsible for 80% of all heart attacks and stroke.
Aneurysm: Hypertension also weakens the vessel wall causing it to bulge. This forms an aneurysm (distension or a pouch-like structure in the vessel wall) which can rupture and is invariably fatal.
Kidney damage: Elevated blood pressure damages the small vessels in the kidney. This reduces the blood supply to it and the kidney starts losing its normal functions and eventually leads to kidney failure.
Vision loss: Blood vessels in the eye (retinal vessels) are narrowed and the vision can get impaired leading to retinopathy and eventually blindness.
Sexual dysfunction: The arteries supplying the penis can get narrowed leading to reduced blood supply and erectile dysfunction in males.
Hypertension has also been associated with memory loss.
In pregnancy it can cause convulsions in the mother eventually leading to coma and preterm labour. The babies that are born are usually low in weight.
Hence, the high blood pressure is not just a reading on your sphygmomanometer/BP monitor but a warning to work towards reducing your BP and prevent the disastrous complications. In short monitor your BP, take proper treatment and bring about lifestyle changes and move towards a healthy life!