Why is prolonged high blood pressure so dangerous if left untreated?

Find out how early detection and control of blood pressure can help you avoid heart disease, stroke, and other serious health problems.

Why is prolonged high blood pressure so dangerous if left untreated?
Blood pressure is up again. Photo by CDC / Unsplash

The only way to detect high blood pressure is to measure it. Nowadays, this is not difficult - it can be done not only in the doctor's surgery but also in the pharmacy. If it is detected early and controlled, for example with lifestyle changes or medication, cardiovascular disease, stroke, and other serious health problems can be avoided.

Blood pressure as a disease

Systolic or upper, blood pressure in the vascular system occurs when the heart contracts, while diastolic, or lower, blood pressure occurs when the heart relaxes. In the past, it was thought that in some cases, such as in the elderly, it was acceptable to have elevated systolic and diastolic blood pressure, but nowadays doctors are not so lenient: to avoid contributing to cardiovascular disease, the blood pressure of both young and old should be between 120/80 and 140/90 mmHg (although above 130/85 mmHg it is already considered elevated). Arterial blood pressure above 140/90 mm/Hg is indicative of hypertension.

Primary arterial hypertension - which is the case in the majority or 90% of patients - is a disease in its own right, while secondary hypertension is caused by another disease, such as chronic kidney or endocrine disease, the treatment of which also normalizes blood pressure. Primary arterial hypertension may be asymptomatic at first or may be indicated by non-specific symptoms such as headaches, pressure in the head, fatigue, and nosebleeds, which are often not associated with high blood pressure, especially if the patient is not in the habit of measuring it occasionally as a preventive measure.

Why is prolonged high blood pressure, left untreated, so dangerous?

Cardiologists point out that it overloads the cardiovascular system, causing damage that makes blood vessels, including those in the brain, more rigid and narrow. This process - atherosclerosis - increases the risk of blockages in the blood vessels of the brain and ischaemic stroke.

Atherosclerosis can also increase the blood flow pressure in the blood vessels of the brain, contributing to their rupture and hemorrhage (hemorrhagic stroke). In about 75% of cases, the increased blood pressure contributes to dilatation of the heart cavity, which interferes with the proper rhythm of the heart, leading to the development of AF and heart failure. Untreated arterial hypertension can also lead to myocardial infarction, chronic kidney disease, damage to the retina, and dementia. For example, researchers have found a link between high systolic blood pressure and an increased risk of brain damage. Elderly people with high diastolic blood pressure have a 50% higher risk of brain damage than their peers with low blood pressure.

In other words, high blood pressure damages the organs that have the best circulation and the most abundant blood supply. Often, the damage to these organs is the first to show, and when the doctor looks for the cause, he or she finds that it is caused by high blood pressure.

If there is a crisis

If blood pressure is measured several times a day, slight fluctuations in blood pressure may be observed. But experts say there's no need to worry, as a 10-15 mmHg change in blood pressure can be influenced by a wide range of factors - from exercise to a cup of coffee, to anxiety - and it's no coincidence that blood pressure measured at the doctor's surgery tends to be higher than at home. For example, in adolescents, blood pressure fluctuations can be linked to hormonal changes in the body.

A hypertensive crisis is a cluster of symptoms that can lead to serious complications or even a life-threatening situation for the patient, such as impaired consciousness or cerebral hemorrhage. One of the most common causes is untreated arterial hypertension.

If a rapid rise in blood pressure is accompanied by severe headaches, impaired vision, nausea, vomiting, convulsions, confusion, unconsciousness, shortness of breath, chest pain, or severe nosebleeds, call an ambulance.

If your blood pressure is very high but you feel fine, doctors recommend that you make sure you have not forgotten to take your blood pressure medicine and take another tablet if necessary. After half an hour or an hour, the blood pressure should be measured again to check the effect of the medicine. If you experience such a rapid rise in blood pressure, you should discuss this with your doctor, who will recommend the medication you should take in such situations.

Often, blood pressure fluctuations, dizziness, and sudden confusion can indicate a slow-moving circulatory disorder, which may be caused by a blockage in a blood vessel. If, in addition to blood pressure fluctuations, dizziness, balance problems, and prolonged headaches are experienced, especially if arterial hypertension has already been diagnosed, doctors recommend an ultrasonographic examination of the blood vessels in the neck and head to assess the condition of the blood vessel walls. As a preventive measure, men should have their blood vessels examined after the age of 40-50.

How to measure blood pressure

Do not drink coffee for at least 30 minutes beforehand, do not smoke, do not visit the toilet as a full bladder can affect the measurement, and be at rest for at least 5 minutes - sitting on a chair or sofa.

Blood pressure should be measured on both hands. At least two blood pressure measurements should be taken, with the second measurement being the correct one.

Hypertensive patients should have their blood pressure measured once or twice a week, but if their treatment has changed, for example, if their doctor has prescribed a different medicine, it should be measured daily in the morning and evening to assess the effectiveness of the medicine.