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The Effects of Untreated High Blood Pressure

If you don't have your blood pressure checked regularly by a healthcare provider, then you may not know you have high blood pressure. Untreated high blood pressure can cause many problems in your body. Just being prescribed medicine or being told to make changes to your lifestyle to lower your high blood pressure isn't enough. You have to act on it! You have to follow through and take the medicine routinely. You need to make the efforts to practice healthy behaviors. If you don't, you - like those who have high blood pressure but don't know it - may have these problems caused by high blood pressure.

Effect on blood vessels. Over time, high blood pressure causes arteries to narrow, thicken, and harden with fatty deposits called plaque. This process is called hardening of the arteries or atherosclerosis. As the plaque deposits increase, they narrow the space inside the blood vessel through which blood flows. This reduces the amount of oxygen-rich blood available to nourish your heart, brain, and other tissues. When arteries become too narrow to supply enough blood for the heart to function normally, it's called coronary heart disease or CHD. You may also hear this called coronary artery disease or CAD for short. When blood vessels cannot supply enough blood to your heart, the heart muscle can cramp. This can cause heart pain, called angina.

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This buildup of plaque increases the risk for stroke and heart attack. In fact, compared with people who have normal blood pressure, people whose high blood pressure is not controlled may be seven times more likely to have a stroke. They may also be three times more likely to develop coronary heart disease. High blood pressure can also cause your arteries to become less elastic. As a result, your heart has to work harder.

Effect on the heart. High blood pressure causes the heart to work harder to pump blood through narrowed blood vessels. As the heart works harder, its walls become thicker and less efficient. Over time, the heart is no longer able to pump blood efficiently. This can lead to congestive heart failure, or CHF, a condition in which the heart beats inefficiently. According to the American Heart Association, people with uncontrolled high blood pressure are six times more likely to develop CHF. This condition can often be prevented or reversed with treatment.

Effect on the kidneys. High blood pressure can damage blood vessels throughout the body. If blood vessels in the kidneys are damaged, the kidneys are less able to do their job of removing waste and fluid from the body. This accumulated fluid can cause your blood pressure to increase even more. Eventually, your kidneys may fail completely. This is called kidney failure.

The level of your pressure affects how quickly your kidneys are damaged. Doctors classify high blood pressure into three stages, depending on what your blood pressure readings are. Very high numbers, or stage 3 high blood pressure, can damage kidneys over a short period of time. However, over time even stage 1 high blood pressure can cause kidney damage. Many people have no symptoms until the damage has been done.

According to the National Kidney Foundation, uncontrolled high blood pressure is the second leading cause of kidney failure. Diabetes is the first cause. Experts estimate that high blood pressure causes 20% to 30% of all cases of kidney failure. The effects of high blood pressure on the kidneys can be prevented if blood pressure is controlled.

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.

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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.

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