High Blood Pressure Levels: The Signs, Symptoms & Risks

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Filed Under: Blood Pressure, Heart Health
Last Reviewed 03/06/2014

High Blood Pressure Levels: The Signs, Symptoms & Risks

Uncontrolled high blood pressure levels (known medically as hypertension) is called the “silent killer” because very often people who suffer from it have no symptoms at all. Sometimes unexplained headaches can be a sign of high blood pressure levels, and occasionally flushing—that sensation you get when you feel heat, or get red, in the face—can be a symptom. But most people with hypertension feel completely normal, and unless they have their blood pressure checked regularly, they don’t even know they have a problem.

But even if you feel fine, you are not fine. If you have high blood pressure levels, you are at a higher risk for:

  • Heart disease,
  • Stroke,
  • Heart attack,
  • Heart failure and
  • Kidney damage.

How High Blood Pressure Levels Hurt Your Arteries

Uncontrolled high blood pressure levels damage the sensitive inner layer of the arteries, called the endothelium. This layer of cells is responsible for making a number of substances that keep blood vessels pliable and responsive to changing conditions in the body. For example, one of the chemicals produced by the endothelium is nitric oxide—which helps keep your arteries appropriately dilated.

High blood pressure levels damage the endothelium in the same way that a rushing stream or river cuts into its banks. The arteries are especially vulnerable to this “sheering force” at points where they bend or form branches.

When damage to the endothelium occurs on a regular basis, it results in inflammation and, eventually, atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries). Here’s how: When the endothelium is damaged by the excessive pressure of the blood flowing against it, your body uses cholesterol to patch up the damage. This is a completely normal response. But over time, it becomes problematic because the cholesterol accumulates in the arterial wall and forms plaque—which slowly hardens and narrows the arteries. This sets the stage for heart disease, plaque rupture, blood clots and serious cardiovascular events, such as heart attack and stroke.

How High Blood Pressure Levels Hurt Your Heart

Another reason high blood pressure levels are so dangerous is the effect it has on the heart. The greater your blood pressure, the harder it is for blood to flow through your body. That means your heart, the pump at the center of it all, must work harder to keep your blood moving. And as with any muscle that you work extra hard for a long time, the heart will enlarge. Unfortunately, an enlarged heart is an unhealthy and less efficient one.

More Dr. Sinatra Advice on Understanding Blood Pressure

What should your blood pressure reading be? Find out what your blood pressure numbers should be and what causes high blood pressure levels.

Are you a woman with blood pressure concerns? Discover why women are especially susceptible to high blood pressure levels and their negative impact on health.

What's the best diet for reducing high blood pressure levels?Learn how the Pan-Asian Mediterranean approach to eating can help lower your blood pressure.

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