There are several harmful consequences for your arteries and heart because high blood pressure, also called HBP or hypertension, places a higher workload on them. It addition, high blood pressure can damage other organs. Watch an animation of how HBP affects your arteries and your heart.
- HBP damages the walls of the arteries.
If you have high blood pressure, the force exerted on your arteries is too high. It's so high that it creates microscopic tears in the artery walls that then turn into scar tissue.
- Damaged arteries accumulate circulating materials such as cholesterol, platelets, fats and plaque builds up.
Acting like latticework inside your arteries, this scar tissue provides a lodging place for particles of fat, cholesterol and other substances, which are collectively called plaque. As the plaque builds up, the arteries slowly narrow and harden, causing conditions such as peripheral artery disease (PAD) and coronary artery disease (CAD).
- HBP speeds up hardening of the arteries.
As you age, your arteries will naturally harden and become less elastic over time. This happens even in people without HBP. However, uncontrolled high blood pressure speeds up the hardening process.
Damaged and hardened arteries can lead to:
- Damaged organs
Damaged arteries cannot deliver adequate blood flow to the body's organs. The organs suffer because they do not receive a full supply of blood, which they depend on for oxygen and nutrients. So over time, not only are the arteries unable to function properly, but the organs can't perform as they should either.
- Blood clots
When arteries are narrowed by fatty deposits, you have a greater risk for developing blood clots. Your blood can carry these clots until they become lodged in narrow spaces. When this happens, the clot can significantly or completely block the blood supply to parts of the body.
How does high blood pressure lead to a heart attack?
- HBP causes damaged and blocked arteries.
A heart attack is the result of a blocked blood supply to the heart muscle tissue. This can happen when the arteries to the heart become thicker and harder from a buildup of plaque. High blood pressure causes scarred arteries that fill up with plaque and become more prone to blood clots. Sometimes plaque or a blood clot can completely close an artery, blocking the blood flow to tissue on the other side.
- Damaged arteries cause blood supply failures.
When a blockage cuts off the blood supply, part of the heart muscle supplied by that coronary artery is deprived of blood. This is when a heart attack occurs. The oxygen-starved part of the heart muscle begins to die. The longer the artery stays blocked, the greater the damage to the heart.
- Heart muscle tissue dies when coronary arteries do not supply blood.
Prevention is key. One of the best ways to care for your heart is to know your blood pressure levels and to keep them in the normal range (below 120/80 mm Hg - below 120 systolic AND below 80 diastolic).
How does HBP lead to heart failure?
- HBP damages the entire circulatory system.
"Heart failure" is the term used for a heart that is not supplying sufficient blood flow to the rest of the body. High blood pressure damages the entire complex circulatory system. As mentioned above, HBP creates conditions for blocked arteries.
- HBP adds to the workload of the heart.
The narrowed arteries reduce the blood's ability to travel through the body smoothly. This adds to the workload on the heart, making it work harder than normal.
- HBP can cause the heart to enlarge and fail to supply the needed blood to the body.
Over time, the heart thickens and becomes larger. This slightly bigger heart still pumps blood, but if it becomes too over-sized, it will have a hard time meeting the body's demands for oxygen and nutrients.
When you control your blood pressure, you help your heart maintain a manageable workload. Learn more about heart failure.
This content was last reviewed on 08/04/2014.