High blood pressure is not considered a type of heart disease, but it does play a major role in the development of heart disease.
High blood pressure (also called hypertension) is one of the biggest risk factors someone can have for developing heart disease.
High blood pressure can also lead to other health complications, including erectile dysfunction, vision loss, and kidney failure.
Continue reading to learn how high blood pressure affects your body — the heart in particular — and what things can raise your chances of developing high blood pressure.
As the volume and pressure of blood flow throughout your blood vessels increase, they begin to narrow. This causes the blood pressure to increase even more. Over time, all of this increased pressure stretches and weakens blood vessels.
When high blood pressure persists for a long time without attempts to manage it, the weakened blood vessels become less effective at moving blood throughout the body. This can have a negative effect on the heart. Weaker blood vessels make the heart work harder to pump blood, leading to issues like heart failure.
Additionally, stiffer, weaker blood vessels can easily become clogged with plaques over time, restricting blood flow even more. (Plaque is a buildup of fats, cholesterol, and calcium in the inner lining of the artery.)
Continued high blood pressure may even force pieces of these plaques free, leading to more acute problems like heart attack or stroke.
High blood pressure can also affect other organs. Kidneys, for example, are particularly sensitive to changes in the force of blood flow.
High blood pressure is often referred to as a “silent killer” because it can develop over time with no noticeable symptoms.
While you may notice symptoms like fatigue or headache, these usually develop after you’ve had high blood pressure for a while.
The best way to know if you have high blood pressure is to have a healthcare professional take your blood pressure.
During a doctor’s appointment, your doctor can ask about your family history and discuss your individual risk factors. Based on their findings, your doctor can also recommend how often you should have your blood pressure monitored going forward, as well as your need for other health screenings.
High blood pressure has several causes, including:
Some of these causes are preventable through healthy diet and lifestyle choices. But there are other risk factors you cannot control that can contribute to high blood pressure like:
- race or ethnicity
High blood pressure is usually diagnosed during a regular preventive health screening.
Be sure to discuss any family history or risk factors that you know of with your doctor, as these things can determine how often you have your blood pressure measured.
High blood pressure is usually managed with a combination of lifestyle changes and medications.
Lifestyle changes are the preferred choice for most people, but they are not always enough to bring your blood pressure down to ideal levels that can help you avoid complications.
Some lifestyle changes to consider if you have high blood pressure or you are at risk of developing high blood pressure include:
- regular exercise
- improving the quality of your diet
- quitting smoking
- reducing alcohol consumption
- reducing stress
There are many medications that are used to reduce high blood pressure if lifestyle changes aren’t enough. These include medications that fall into the following categories:
- ACE inhibitors
- angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs)
- calcium channel blockers
- central agonists
- aldosterone receptor antagonists
- direct renin inhibitors
There are also options that combine more than one type of blood pressure drug into a single medication.
Is high blood pressure curable?
High blood pressure can be managed with diet and lifestyle, but there is no “cure.”
How well you’re able to manage high blood pressure depends a lot on why you developed it in the first place and how much damage was done to your blood vessels before diagnosis and treatment.
For example, high blood pressure caused by diet choices or smoking can be improved by seeking support to quit smoking and eating a more balanced, nutritional diet. However, damage that’s already done cannot typically be reversed.
High blood pressure caused by genetics or age can’t be managed by making changes to your lifestyle, though, and often requires medication to see improvements.
For people with high blood pressure, early diagnosis and following your doctor’s recommended treatment plan greatly improves the overall outlook.
Damage caused by high blood pressure typically develops over longer periods of time during which blood pressure levels are not managed. Taking steps to improve your health and reduce blood pressure early can help you prevent and avoid lasting complications.
Will taking birth control pills increase my chances of having high blood pressure?
It depends on what kind of birth control you use. Hormonal birth control methods can play a role in increasing blood pressure, so they may need to be avoided by anyone who already has hypertension.
Talk with a healthcare professional about the best birth control options for your specific health. There are a number of nonhormonal options available that do not affect blood pressure.
Can high blood pressure lead to erectile dysfunction?
Yes. Erectile dysfunction is one of the possible complications of unmanaged high blood pressure.
Will high blood pressure affect my chances of getting pregnant?
High blood pressure can have a number of effects on your overall health. It may affect fertility and can also complicate a pregnancy if you are able to conceive.
How long does it take for high blood pressure to cause damage?
The damaging effects of high blood pressure are not related to time periods. Instead, it’s the level of your blood pressure.
The higher your blood pressure, the higher the risk you may develop other health issues related to hypertension.
High blood pressure is not a heart disease by itself, but it does play a major role in the development of heart diseases and other health conditions.
Knowing your risks, taking steps for prevention, and treating high blood pressure if you have it can all help you avoid heart disease and other problems related to high blood pressure.