Hypertension and Heart Disease

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Medically reviewed by: Robert Philibert MD PhD

Metabolic Syndrome refers to a group of risk factors that in turn increase your risk for heart disease, diabetes and other related conditions. These risk factors can include hypertension, diabetes, obesity, insulin resistance, and high cholesterol. In particular, those with metabolic syndromes are at a higher risk for cardiovascular diseases. Therefore it is important to understand the preventative measures that can be taken to address these problems before they escalate. Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, can develop over time. Hypertension, also known as the “silent killer” to physicians, is often unrecognized and if not treated, increases the risk of heart diseases and stroke. The great news is that high blood pressure can be managed to reduce these risks. 

What is the connection between hypertension and heart disease?

Your heart is a pump.  The harder that pump has to work, the greater the likelihood of damage.  But in addition, high blood pressure also damages arteries, rendering them less elastic and decreasing blood flow. This in turn decreases the flow of oxygen to the heart. The cascading set of circulatory changes can cause chest pain, heart attacks, and even heart failure. Because damage done by high blood pressure happens over time, some symptoms may not be immediately noticeable. When combined with high blood cholesterol, the excess strain and damage causes coronary arteries surrounding the heart to become narrowed from plaque buildup. This results in  hardening of the artery and increases the risks for blood clots. If the artery is blocked by these blood clots, then blood flow will be interrupted leading to a heart attack. 

What other health problems can hypertension cause? 

High blood pressure threatens quality of life and can lead to various difficulties including:

  • Stroke
    • This occurs when blood supply to the brain is interrupted. The cells within the brain die rapidly due to lack of nutrients and oxygen. 
  • Kidney disease or failure
    • High blood pressure weakens blood vessels which in turn decreases blood flow.. The kidney depends on unimpeded blood flow in order to produce urine. If waste carried by the urine is not able to leave the body, blood pressure can increase further, resulting into a dangerous cycle that eventually leads to kidney failure. 
  • Sexual dysfunction
    • Decreased blood flow to pelvic muscles can lead to erectile dysfunction and loss of libido.
  • Vision loss
    • Decreased blood flow to the retina causes nerve damage, fluid buildup, and blurry vision. For those with diabetes, this poses an even greater risk for blindness. 
  • Peripheral artery disease (PAD)
    • PAD is a disease of arteries in the legs due to plaque buildup. Since high blood pressure can make it much easier for plaque to form, the risk for developing PAD is high. 

 

Managing hypertension 

If not treated properly, prolonged high blood pressure can further damage blood vessels causing LDL cholesterol to clump in arteries. As a result, the heart and the rest of the circulatory system overworks itself resulting in decreased efficiency. 

It is important to regularly monitor blood pressure. This can be done at a local pharmacy or with a blood pressure machine. If the blood pressure reading is consistently around 140/90mm Hg or higher, a follow-up appointment with a physician may be needed. During a doctor’s appointment, it is important to discuss and assess any risk factors that could make it more likely to develop high blood pressure. Implementing a heart-healthy lifestyle is another way to reduce risks. These are some steps that can be implemented:

  • Exercise for at least 45 minutes a day a few times a week
  • Eat nutritious meals with leafy greens
  • Reduce sodium intake
  • Reduce sugary foods and beverages
  • Limit alcohol consumption 
  • Reduce stress and practice good sleep hygiene 

 

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