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High Blood Pressure and Its Effect on Your Body

Clip Number: 6 of 13
Presentation: High Blood Pressure
The following reviewers and/or references were utilized in the creation of this video:
Reviewed By: Authors for this presentation include: Randy Reher, MD; Tim Church, MD, PhD; Brian Shortall, MD; Art Schoenstadt, MD; and Michal Whiton, MD.
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High blood pressure does not cause problems over a day or weeks or months. High blood pressure causes problems over many years, and it can affect your entire body.
Let's talk about some of the body's structures that are most affected by high blood pressure. These include your: blood vessels, heart, brain, kidneys and eyes.
The small blood vessels in the vital organs are most affected over time. These vessels become scarred, hardened and less elastic, which means that they are more likely to get blocked or rupture. This may happen as you get older, whether or not your blood pressure is too high. But, high blood pressure can speed up this process.
Another way that high blood pressure affects your blood vessels is that it may play a role in the development of atherosclerosis. A person has atherosclerosis if their arteries thicken because of fat and cholesterol build-up on the artery walls.
High blood pressure adds strain to the blood vessel walls, which puts them in more danger of getting atherosclerosis than they would otherwise be.
If the inside of your blood vessels get smaller and harder, and the pressure inside them goes up, then your heart has to pump harder to get blood through them. Your heart is a muscle, and just like other muscles, working this hard makes your heart get bigger.
This is not a good thing for your heart. It can get stretched out, and some of the blood that is supposed to pump through your body stays back in the heart. Eventually, your heart begins to weaken because it simply cannot continue to pump so hard against the pressure in your vessels. When the heart can no longer pump out all of the blood that enters its chambers, this is a serious condition called congestive heart failure. A symptom of this condition can be fluid that backs up into the lungs and chest cavity.
High blood pressure can also damage the brain. Blood vessels in the brain can get blocked or rupture just like blood vessels anywhere else in the body. The difference is that if it happens in the brain, there may be bleeding there, or the brain tissues won't get nutrients and oxygen from the blood. High blood pressure is a major cause of strokes and bleeding in the brain. It can also affect normal brain function as a person ages.
The kidneys are also important organs that can be damaged by high blood pressure. If the arteries that supply blood to the kidneys are damaged, then the kidneys' tissues will not get the blood they need, and the kidneys themselves can gradually lose their ability to function.
High blood pressure can cause changes in the retinas of your eyes. The retina is where the eye receives visual images. The blood vessels in the eyes are also at risk of getting more narrow, rupturing, and bleeding. These changes can cause impaired vision and, over time, may lead to blindness.
As you can see, blood vessels, the heart, brain, kidneys, and eyes are the structures in your body most affected by high blood pressure. That's why a person that has had high blood pressure for many years is at a serious risk of heart attack, stroke, and kidney failure. In fact, if you have high blood pressure and it is left untreated, you are 3 times more likely to have heart disease, 6 times more likely to develop congestive heart failure and 7 times more likely to have a stroke.
Fortunately, a person can make lifestyle changes that will help lessen the strain on their heart and blood vessels. This helps to control the bad effects high blood pressure can have on the organs.

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