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Many factors can affect blood pressure, including:

  • How much water and salt you have in your body
  • The condition of your kidneys, nervous system, or blood vessels
  • The levels of different body hormones

High blood pressure can affect all types of people. You have a higher risk of high blood pressure if you have a family history of the disease. High blood pressure is more common in African Americans than Caucasians. Smoking, obesity, and diabetes are all risk factors for hypertension. Most of the time, no cause is identified. This is called essential hypertension. High blood pressure that results from a specific condition, habit, or medication is called secondary hypertension. Too much salt in your diet can lead to high blood pressure.

What happens to my body if I have high blood pressure?

When your heart beats, it squeezes and pushes blood out into the body through a system of arteries and veins. Blood pressure is the measure of how much force the heart uses with each pump, or beat, and a second measure of the force between heart beats.

When you have high blood pressure, the heart has to use more force per beat to make the same amount of blood go through the veins and arteries as they are used to getting. Normal and healthy veins and arteries are made of muscle and flexible material that stretches as blood goes through them. The more force that’s used to push the blood through, the more the arteries have to stretch and expand to allow the blood to get through. Over time, if the force of the blood flow is consistently high, the tissues get stretched out and become weak. When this happens:

  • There is a greater risk for the weak vessels to rupture, which can lead to stroke or aneurysm.
  • Risk of blood clots in the arteries increases due to tears that can take place when an artery is over-stretched. The clots can block blood flow causing a heart attack, or can break loose causing stroke or aneurysm.
  • Plaque and cholesterol particles can build up where scars have formed, clogging arteries increasing the risk for heart attack. A piece of plaque could also break off from a deposit due to the higher blood pressure and could cause stroke or aneurysm.
  • Tissues or even organs in your body could be damaged since they may not be getting enough blood flow due to arteries being blocked and preventing enough blood.
  • Damage to the heart itself may also be a result. When the heart has to work extra hard to pump the needed amount of blood through the body for an extended period of time, lots of pressure builds up in the heart and causes it to enlarge. The muscles in the heart get tired and can become damaged from “working overtime.”
  • When the arteries are not as elastic because of the build-up of cholesterol or plaque or because of scarring, the heart pumps harder to get blood into the arteries. Over time, this increased work can result in damage to the heart itself. The muscles and valves in the heart can become damaged and heart failure, or congestive heart failure, can result.

Other possible complications that can result from letting high blood pressure go undetected and untreated:

  • Aortic dissection
  • Blood vessel damage (arteriosclerosis)
  • Brain damage
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Kidney damage
  • Kidney failure
  • Heart attack
  • Hypertensive heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Vision loss

Call your doctor

If you have high blood pressure, you should have regularly scheduled appointments with your doctor.

Even if you have not been diagnosed with high blood pressure, it is important to have your blood pressure checked during your yearly check-up, especially if someone in your family has or has had high blood pressure.

Call your health care provider right away if home monitoring shows that your blood pressure remains high or you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Chest pain
  • Confusion
  • Excessive tiredness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Severe headache
  • Shortness of breath
  • Significant sweating
  • Vision changes

Click here to get connected with a doctor if you don’t have one already.