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Why is hypertension a serious problem?

Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Family Practitioner

Hypertension or high blood pressure is a serious problem for millions of Americans, including veterans. Not only can elevated levels of blood pressure damage blood vessels throughout the entire body, but also hypertension leads to heart attacks. 

High blood pressure makes your heart work harder than it should, putting stress on the heart muscle and arteries and setting them up for possible injury. The effects of hypertension are profound. For example, for every 7 mm Hg increase in diastolic blood pressure, the risk of stroke increases by 42 percent. For every 7 mm Hg increase in diastolic blood pressure, the risk of heart attack goes up by 27 percent. Findings show that higher levels of baseline systolic, diastolic, and mean blood pressure in both younger and older age groups are significantly associated with a decline in cognitive ability. This means that young adults are just as vulnerable as older adults to hypertension-related dementia.

Other serious problems from high blood pressure include kidney disease and kidney failure. With kidney disease, the blood vessels in the kidneys start to narrow, making it difficult for the kidneys to eliminate toxins in the body.

Hypertension can cause arteries in the body to narrow. This results in limited blood flow to the heart, brain, kidneys and legs. When blood flow is limited to the heart, a heart attack can result. Poor blood flow to the brain can result in a “brain attack” or stroke. When blood flow is limited to the kidneys, kidney failure may result. Poor blood flow to the legs can result in amputation or all or part of the leg.

In addition, hypertension can cause tiny blood vessels in the eyes to bleed or even burst, resulting in visual impairment or even blindness.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.