Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

The Effects of Untreated High Blood Pressure


Unexpected Complications Due to High Blood Pressure

Effect on the eyes. High blood pressure can cause a condition called retinopathy. In rare cases this condition can lead to vision loss. Retinopathy occurs when the pressure in the blood vessels of the eyes is too high. That increased pressure damages both the blood vessels and the retinas in the back of the eyes.

Effect on the risk for stroke. High blood pressure is the most important risk factor for stroke, the third leading cause of death in the U.S. In fact, high blood pressure contributes to about 70% of all strokes. Even slightly elevated blood pressure can double your risk for stroke.

Effect on sexual function and pleasure. About 25% of men with high blood pressure have problems with sexual functioning. Problems with sexual function often don't stem directly from high blood pressure. These problems may be caused by narrowed arteries, which are common in people with high blood pressure. They may also occur as a result of the effects of medicine that lowers blood pressure. In addition, one study found that some women with high blood pressure have less vaginal lubrication and have difficulty achieving sexual satisfaction.

Effect on memory and mental function. Some research indicates that untreated high blood pressure is associated with the loss of mental ability in older people. Older adults with untreated high blood pressure may have short-term memory loss. They may have trouble with their attention span, too. Also, common are forms of dementia, such as Alzheimer's disease. The higher your blood pressure, the greater your risk for loss of mental ability. Getting treatment for high blood pressure may improve mental functioning.

Effect on pregnancy. High blood pressure during pregnancy can decrease the amount of blood and oxygen delivered to the baby. Women with high blood pressure who become pregnant are at greater risk for a condition called preeclampsia, or toxemia. However, women with no prior history of high blood pressure can also develop this condition.

Preeclampsia is characterized by high blood pressure that occurs after the 20th week of pregnancy. This condition also has these symptoms: protein in the urine, as well as excessive swelling in the hands, ankles, or face. It can cause a baby to be born with a low birth weight. In cases of severe preeclampsia, the mother's kidneys can be damaged. There's also a risk of convulsion and coma in the mother, or even death for mother and child. Women with high blood pressure during pregnancy need to be carefully monitored by their doctors.