10 Complications of High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)

Medically Reviewed By Megan Soliman, MD
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Hypertension occurs when blood pressure in the body is higher than what’s considered normal. Unmanaged hypertension can lead to complications such as issues with your heart, lungs, and overall health. When blood pressure is considered too high, it can cause damage to your cardiovascular system over time. High blood pressure can also affect other organs and structures in the body that are supplied by blood flow. This may lead to complications and secondary conditions that cause further illness.

This article will discuss some common complications of hypertension, including how they occur and further affect health. It will also answer some frequently asked questions about the complications of high blood pressure.

Complications of hypertension

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According to the American Heart Association (AHA), most damage from hypertension occurs over time or from hypertension that goes undetected or unmanaged.

Some complications of high blood pressure can be serious or even lead to death. This is why it’s important to manage hypertension according to your medical team’s suggestions.

Below are some possible complications of uncontrolled hypertension:

1. Heart disease

When blood moves throughout your body with too much force, it can weaken or injure blood vessels. This can cause scar tissue to form, which may cause debris such as fat and cholesterol to build up. The debris can then form clusters known as “plaques” that get in the way of blood flow, blocking the blood supply to the heart.

This process is known as atherosclerosis.

Atherosclerosis can result in a heart attack and cause other cardiovascular conditions, such as:

2. Heart failure

Heart failure occurs when the heart is unable to supply enough blood to the rest of the body.

Heart failure can occur due to atherosclerosis when high blood pressure causes the arteries to narrow as a result of plaque buildup or blood clotting. This means it is harder for blood to move efficiently around the body, so the heart has to work harder and may enlarge to meet demands.

Under these conditions, the heart becomes less efficient at pumping blood. This makes it more difficult for it to meet the body’s needs and could lead to heart failure.

Heart failure can develop quickly or over the course of several years.

Read more about the development and stages of hypertension.

3. Stroke

Hypertension significantly raises a person’s chances of experiencing a stroke. This is because hypertension can burst or block the arteries that supply blood to the brain.

In addition, a buildup of plaque or blood clots can break off elsewhere in the body and travel to the brain, causing an embolic stroke.

Strokes can be serious or even fatal, as the surrounding brain tissue may not receive enough vital nutrients and oxygen from the blood, causing permanent damage.

Learn more about symptoms and first aid for stroke.

4. Aneurysm

An aneurysm happens when hypertension creates weak spots in arteries, allowing the areas to fill with blood and bulge out in the artery wall. If these areas grow too large, they can burst and cause bleeding or death.

Aneurysms in the brain can also cause a stroke if they burst.

Aneurysms can become large before causing any noticeable symptoms. However, some tests can find them by chance.

5. Kidney disease

After diabetes, high blood pressure is the second most common cause of kidney failure in the United States.

Hypertension in the kidneys can cause the kidney’s vessels to weaken and narrow because of damage. This can make it harder for the kidneys to remove waste and fluid from the body efficiently, or at all. The remaining fluid the body cannot get rid of may then raise blood pressure even more, creating a vicious cycle and potentially causing even more damage.

6. Vision impairment

Just as hypertension damages blood vessels elsewhere in the body, it can damage blood vessels in the eyes. This reduces blood flow through the eyes and may sometimes lead to ruptures.

Clinicians refer to this as hypertensive retinopathy.

Hypertensive retinopathy may result in further symptoms and complications, such as:

Rarely, hypertensive retinopathy and its complications may lead to vision loss. A stroke that damages the optic nerve may also contribute to vision loss.

Learn more about vision loss and how it can develop.

7. Peripheral arterial disease

Atherosclerosis due to hypertension can cause blockages or narrowing of arteries and reduced blood flow in many areas of the body, including the:

  • limbs
  • stomach
  • head

This is known as peripheral arterial disease (PAD). While this condition can cause pain and other symptoms of discomfort, some people with PAD do not have any symptoms at all.

PAD can be serious and may lead to further complications, such as:

  • infection
  • erectile dysfunction
  • amputation
  • heart attack
  • stroke

8. Cognitive impairment

Research in 2022 suggests that having a history of hypertension may increase your risk of experiencing some kind of cognitive impairment.

Types of cognitive impairment include:

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • dementia
  • vascular dementia, which refers to difficulty with:
    • reasoning and judgment
    • planning
    • memory

Researchers are unsure exactly how and why this happens but suggest it could relate to malfunctioning and damage of the brain and blood.

It may be possible to lower these risks with effective treatment using antihypertensive medications.

9. Sexual impairment

Hypertension may affect sexual function and desire for some people. This is because it can affect blood flow, which is an essential mechanism in supporting arousal.

For example, hypertension may lead to erectile dysfunction. It may also contribute to experiencing a lower libido or less interest in sex.

10. Metabolic syndrome

Having high blood pressure is one factor that can lead to a diagnosis of metabolic syndrome. This is when a person has a specific group of risk factors for conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.

If you develop hypertension and other characteristics of metabolic syndrome, your chances of developing further health conditions may increase.

Lifestyle changes such as maintaining a moderate weight, eating a balanced nutrient-dense diet, and managing stress may help manage metabolic syndrome.

Treatment and effectiveness

If you’re concerned about complications of hypertension, contact your doctor to review your treatment plan and receive advice.

Clinical treatments may be very effective in lowering blood pressure and reducing any risk of complications, such as cardiovascular conditions.

Learn more about treatment for high blood pressure.

FAQ

Megan Soliman, MD, has reviewed the following frequently asked questions.

What areas are most commonly damaged by hypertension?

“Uncontrolled” hypertension commonly causes complications and damage to the blood vessels of the body, such as the veins or arteries.

Since blood vessels are present in almost all areas of the body, hypertension can cause complications in any area of the body supplied by blood vessels.

This includes the:

  • heart
  • lungs
  • limbs
  • eyes
  • brain
  • reproductive organs

What causes hypertension?

Hypertension can be due to genetic predispositions, underlying conditions, and several lifestyle factors. Some common causes include:

Summary

High blood pressure — hypertension — that does not receive effective treatments or is not well managed may lead to serious complications over time.

Complications of hypertension can include stroke, kidney disease, and vision impairment. Because high blood pressure can lead to blood vessel damage, it can have many effects on circulation and heart health.

Finding treatments that work for you may help reduce any risk of complications from hypertension. Contact your doctor for individualized advice about improving your treatments and outlook.

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Medical Reviewer: Megan Soliman, MD
Last Review Date: 2022 Oct 14
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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