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What is High Blood Pressure & What Are The Risks?
Also known as hypertension, high blood pressure (HBP) occurs when the force of blood in the arteries is consistently high and not in response to normal healthy physical exertion. Blood pressure can be monitored by your physician and if HBP is detected, additional monitoring may be needed and recommendations can be made to control it through diet, lifestyle, and medications.
What causes blood pressure to remain elevated?
There are certain diet and lifestyle factors that can contribute to high blood pressure like smoking, alcohol consumption, high cholesterol, sleep apnea, high fat or high sodium diet, stress, among many others. There are also genetic and hormonal factors.
The commonality is that all the things that contribute to high blood pressure do so by directly physically impairing/breaking the delivery systems and by indirectly setting off events that the body is trying to correct.
Essentially, your body gets caught in a negative feedback loop trying to maintain homeostasis.
Over time, the blood vessels may get damaged or blocked and overworked/underfed organs stop functioning properly. Often, you don’t know something is broken until it is too late, which is why untreated high blood pressure is also known as the silent killer.
High Blood Pressure is the #1 Risk Factor for the #1 Cause of Death of Humans Worldwide.
Here are a few risks of high blood pressure:
- * Heart Damage & Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)
Your heart is a muscle and high blood pressure means your heart has to work harder to pump blood around. When you increase demand on a muscle, it thickens or can enlarge. Bigger muscles need more nutrients and oxygen.
High blood pressure also compromises the integrity of your arteries. The force of the blood against the walls of the blood vessels can become abrasive. Essentially, tiny little micro scrapes of the tissue occur and become an easy place for plaque to build up. (What is plaque? Plaque is a collection of cholesterol, fat, cell debris, calcium and fibrin.) This can narrow the blood vessels, or if enough plaque builds up, will harden the vessels, both resulting in less blood being delivered where it needs to go as quickly as it should. The narrowing and/or hardening of the vessels directly supplying the heart is called Coronary Artery Disease (CAD).
- * Strokes & Heart Attacks
Weakened, stiff vessels can leak and rupture. If gas is falling out of the line it is not getting to the motor. This is one way blood and nutrients are suddenly prevented from getting to the heart or brain.
Blockages by way of clots is another way. When tissue breaks, like when you get a cut, for example, platelets in your blood rush to the scene to close the break. But those platelets need backup to make the plug bigger and strong enough to hold. To do that, a certain protein in the blood (fibrin) sends a signal to make little fibers at the clot site to make a kind of net to catch more platelets. If you have plaque build up inside your vessels, when clots are present, they can block off these narrowed tubes preventing blood and nutrients from getting to your brain (a stroke) or your heart (a heart attack). Plaque also happens to contain the same protein that makes those little fiber nets. If the plaque breaks, it can start the clotting process inside your blood vessels.
- * Kidney Failure
The Kidneys are pretty important. They help clean and filter the blood and also play a role in regulating blood pressure. Like any other organ or tissue, it needs nutrients to survive which is supplied in the blood. High blood pressure doesn’t only damage blood vessels going to the heart but also to the kidneys. Weakened, hardened, narrowed, possibly leaky vessels to the kidneys means not enough blood getting to the kidneys. This is problematic for two reasons. First, your kidneys can’t do a good job of cleaning your blood if the vessels they use to do it are damaged. Eventually the kidney will no longer be able to provide this function and dialysis may be needed or the kidneys may need to be transplanted. Second, even though your blood pressure is high, your kidneys can think the opposite. “I’m not getting enough food! Let’s get that blood pumping! Release the renin!” - said your kidney. Your kidneys produce a hormone called renin that triggers a series of other hormones to tell the body to increase the salt and the amount of water reabsorbed to increase the volume of the blood. So what does that mean? Your heart has to pump harder to push more blood than before through narrowed vessels.
- * Pregnancy Complications
High blood pressure may be present before becoming pregnant but sometimes high blood pressure comes on during a pregnancy. Either way, high blood pressure should be immediately discussed with your physician if you are preparing to become pregnant, or are pregnant, to protect you and the unborn baby. Certain lifestyle changes, medicines and extra monitoring of the baby may be necessary. Preeclampsia, a sudden increase in blood pressure after 20 weeks of pregnancy, can be life-threatening and only resolved through the delivery of the baby which may be premature.
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