The dangers of high blood pressure

Joan Timpson  |  August 9, 2013

During your last visit to your GP, chances are that he or she took your blood pressure. Although virtually everybody has experienced this routine examination at some point, few people realise how important it is to regulate their blood pressure. Serious health complications can arise from high blood pressure, sometimes known as arterial hypertension, making it especially important for older people to keep their blood pressure down.

Arterial damage

It might seem obvious when you think about it, but one of the greatest dangers of hypertension is arterial damage. The higher your blood pressure, the greater the strain this places on the sensitive walls of your arteries. As the lining of the artery becomes damaged, it causes the body to launch a "counterattack" to minimise the damage, causing the walls to thicken and harden. This is a condition known as arteriosclerosis and, over time, this can lead to reduced blood flow - one of the leading causes of heart attacks.

Coronary artery disease

Although coronary artery disease shares many of the same symptoms and complications as arteriosclerosis, this condition can also present a range of problems of its own. As the walls of the arteries constrict, limiting blood flow, this can substantially increase your risk of developing a coronary arrhythmia, also known as a heart "murmur" or irregular heart beat. Even in the early stages of coronary artery disease, chest pains and other symptoms can manifest, with heart attacks being another risk of this condition.

Brain damage

Few people realise that heart complications can cause brain damage, but in some cases, this risk is much higher than many people might think. Thinning of the arteries results in reduced blood flow to the heart, but also to the brain. Without a steady supply of oxygenated blood, the brain can experience what is known as a transient ischemic attack, sometimes referred to as a "mini-stroke." This is caused by a temporary disruption of blood flow to the brain. Other dangers that can arise from reduced blood flow include more serious strokes, mild cognitive impairment and even dementia in some cases.

Simply put, the heart is a muscle - one that beats around 2.5 billion times in the average lifetime. Take care of your heart. If you're worried about your blood pressure, talk to your GP. He or she will be able to recommend ways you can keep your blood pressure down and take care of your most important muscle.