The heart is affected by many factors, of which our lifestyle and medical conditions play a large role. High blood pressure is the number one risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Developing in a rather sneaky manner, high blood pressure often remains unrecognized for a long period of time, and becomes more prominent with increasing age. The primary factors that increase blood pressure are genetic predisposition and an unhealthy lifestyle, including poor nutrition, inactivity, obesity, smoking and stress.
The body is supplied with blood via its vascular system, which is composed of arteries and veins. In order for the blood to be pumped throughout the entire body it requires a certain pressure, the so-called „blood pressure.“ When the heart contracts, the internal pressure within the heart rises and therefore the blood pressure as well.
This increase in pressure is transferred with the blood being pumped from the heart into the arteries. The maximum force exerted against the artery walls required to circulate blood is known as the systolic blood pressure (the upper number on a blood pressure reading). As the heart relaxes, the pressure in the arteries reduces as well. The pressure in the vessels during relaxation is called the diastolic blood pressure (the lower number on a blood pressure reading).
High blood pressure (hypertension) is present when the pressure in the arteries exceeds a certain limit. Blood pressure can be categorized based upon how high the systolic and diastolic values are.
|Grade 1 (mild) Hypertension
|Grade 2 (moderate) Hypertension
|Grade 3 (severe) Hypertension
|Isolated Systolic Hypertension (only the upper number is too high)
High blood pressure is usually asymptomatic. However, symptoms often arise when the disease has progressed to a point that organ systems are affected. Some possible symptoms may include: pain, burning or pressure in the chest, difficulty breathing, seizures, numbness, difficulty of speech (such as with a stroke), nausea with or without vomiting, blurred vision, nose bleeding and drowsiness
Blood pressure rises when the arteries are blocked and the blood can no longer flow freely. This is particularly pronounced during strenuous situations, as the heart must work even harder to supply the body with enough oxygen and nutrients.
An unhealthy lifestyle increases fat deposition and arteriosclerosis of the blood vessels. The blockage and loss of elasticity causes the vessels to become more rigid and narrow. In a healthy person the vessels react in response to increased cardiac output flexibly, adjusting to the needs of the body in order to guarantee an optimal supply pressure. With high blood pressure this automatic response of the vessels is not guaranteed, which can cause long-lasting damage to other organs.
High blood pressure damages the blood vessels by making them more rigid and by damaging their interior lining. The damaged lining increases the risk of fat deposition, thereby impeding blood flow. Due to resistance of the blood vessels, the heart must work harder in order to sufficiently supply the body with Oxygen-rich blood. Continuous strain on the heart can cause an increase in the heart’s muscle mass, and without enough space it cannot properly function. When the blood supply to the coronary arteries is compromised, insufficient oxygen exchange takes place, and part of the heart muscle may die. This is known as a heart attack. Untreated high blood pressure can damage other important organs over time, such as the brain, the kidneys, and the blood vessels.
As previously mentioned, high blood pressure often goes unrecognized. High blood pressure is typically first treated when the vessels are already damaged and symptoms such as dizziness, headache, poor vision, nausea and/or vomiting, chest pain or difficulty breathing are present.
In 9 out of 10 cases blood pressure can be maintained within a normal range via a health-conscious lifestyle and regular blood screenings, thereby avoiding potential side effects. Read some tips on how to lead a healthy lifestyle on our Heart Tips site.
Find facts about stroke in our entry Stroke due to Atrial Fibrillation.