High blood pressure is a “common and dangerous condition,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), affecting about one in three adults in the United States. Only about half of the 75 million people with high blood pressure have it under control. High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, increases your risk for two of the leading causes of death for Americans – heart disease and stroke.
High blood pressure means that your blood exerts excessive force on your blood vessels. This excessive pressure can damage the coronary arteries that deliver oxygen-rich blood to your heart muscles. Damage to these arteries, along with the strain of high pressure within the blood vessels, causes an accumulation of fat, cholesterol and other substances, known collectively as plaque. Doctors refer to the slow accumulation of plaque as atherosclerosis.
Atherosclerosis is associated with narrowing and hardening of the coronary arteries. As arteries harden, they become more susceptible to the development of blood clots. Plaque and clots can accumulate within the coronary arteries and block the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the muscles of your heart. Interruption of blood flow can starve the heart muscles of the oxygen and nutrients they need to function. Oxygen and nutrient starvation can cause damage to or even death of heart muscle – resulting in a heart attack.
Hypertension can also cause heart failure, a condition where your heart cannot provide enough blood to the rest of your body. Healthy arteries are elastic, and this elasticity helps the arteries maintain a relatively constant pressure that keeps blood flowing easily to the far reaches of your body. Narrowed arteries are less elastic, so blood does not flow well within them. To compensate for poor artery function, your heart works harder to push blood through the blood vessels. Increased workload causes the muscles of your heart to thicken and enlarge, which makes the heart muscles less efficient.
Determining Your Risk for Heart Problems Associated with Hypertension
Anyone can develop high blood pressure, but age, gender, race or ethnicity, being overweight, lifestyle habits, and family history can increase your risk for developing hypertension. Your risk for heart problems associated with hypertension depends largely on your overall health and the speed at which you treat your hypertension. The longer you wait to lower your blood pressure, the more likely you are to suffer heart problems associated with hypertension.
For more information on how hypertension may have affected your heart, talk with your doctor. Your healthcare provider can suggest a number of tests, including virtual imaging with computed tomography (CT), to evaluate the health of your heart. Make an appointment with Virtual Imaging, Inc. Imaging Center at 770-730-0119.