Signs, Symptoms and Complications of High Blood Pressure

(This is the second of a three part series on high blood pressure. The first part discussed the definition of high blood pressure, and the final part will describe the treatment of high blood pressure.)

High blood pressure is usually free of signs or symptoms until it has time to do its damage over 10 or more years. Measurement of your blood pressure at least annually is essential. People believe that headache is a symptom of high blood pressure, but most people with headaches have normal blood pressure and most people with high blood pressure do not have headaches.

The complications of high blood pressure result in severe illness or even death. This need never happen because there are excellent treatments available for high blood pressure from lifestyle change to drugs. Here are the major complications of uncontrolled high blood pressure.

Heart Disease

High blood pressure can lead to hardening of the arteries, known as atherosclerosis. The arteries become clogged with deposits of cholesterol, fat cells and inflammatory cells. If the obstruction is severe in the arteries of the heart, a heart attack may result. One out of every 5 deaths in the US each year is due to atherosclerosis. A heart attack may be the first sign of the disease.

High blood pressure can also lead to heart failure. When the heart has to work harder to pump the blood, the muscle tissue of the heart may lengthen, thin and lose its ability to pump all the blood out. Then you may have any or all of the following:

  • Swollen legs
  • Large liver
  • Juandice: yellow eyes and skin from severe liver damage
  • Swollen abdomen: fluid leading into the abdomen
  • Decreased urine due to diminished blood flow
  • Cold and pale limbs because of poor blood flow

Kidney Disease

High blood pressure damages the kidneys over time and may cause kidney failure. It takes loss of up to 90 percent of kidney tissue to reach the stage of kidney failure. The kidneys are an essential filter for all the toxins that are made in the course of your regular metabolism and any you might eat.

Damage to the kidneys is evident when the levels of blood urea nitrogen and creatinine rise in the blood and protein is found in the urine. High blood pressure is the second most common cause of kidney failure after diabetes.

Once kidney failure occurs, the patient either has dialysis, where the blood is cleaned of toxins by an external machine or has a kidney transplantation to restore normal kidney function.

Brain attack also known as stroke or cerebrovascular accident

When high blood pressure affects the arteries that lead to the brain, there is the risk of a brain attack (stroke). The effect of the stroke depends on which areas of the brain are damaged. There may be paralysis of one side of the body or loss of sensation or a mixture of the two.

600,000 people in the US have brain attacks every year and 160,000 die. The rest may be left with damage that prevents them from ever living a normal life or forces them to live the rest of their lives in a nursing facility.

There are signs that a brain attack is about to occur and you should try to recognize them.

  • Sudden blurred vision
  • Numbness, weakness or paralysis of the face, arm and/or leg, usually on one side
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Sudden headache, often severe

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