You can have high blood pressure and not realize it. Uncontrolled high blood pressure can cause your heart to work extra hard and damage other vital organs.
When you are sick, you usually feel tired, weak or in pain. But you can have high blood pressure and feel fine.
Although high blood pressure can cause headache, flushing and dizziness, it usually has no symptoms. That's why it's often called the "silent killer."
"Many people have high blood pressure for years without knowing it" says Regional Heart Center Cardiologist, John Winterton, M.D. "By the time some people find out their blood pressure is too high, vital organs such as the heart and liver may have already been damaged."
Sometimes people don't find out about their high blood pressure until they have a stroke.
The only way to know if your blood pressure is too high is to have it measured. If you don't know what your blood pressure is, you should have it checked as soon as possible.
"Uncontrolled high blood pressure makes your heart and arteries work harder and decreases their ability to provide a steady flow of blood to your body," Dr. Winterton states. "Your heart must pump with more force and your arteries must carry blood moving under greater pressure."
The strain caused by high blood pressure can increase your risk for several conditions including:
Enlarged heart. When your heart has to work harder than normal to move blood to your vital organs, it tends to enlarge.
"Your heart may tolerate increased blood pressure for years," Dr. Winterton explains. "Eventually, however, the muscle fibers may stretch too much or become too thick, and the heart becomes dangerously enlarged. An enlarged heart has trouble pumping efficiently. This can lead to heart failure or abnormal heart rhythms."
Atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. When your blood pressure is high, blood pushes and pounds against artery walls with greater force than normal. This can break down the structure of your arteries. At the same time, some of the fat that normally circulates in your blood is pushed into the walls of damaged arteries. The higher your blood pressure and the more fat or cholesterol in your bloodstream, the faster this happens.
Heart attack. Fatty deposits can clog arteries and slow blood flow to portions of your heart. If one of the blood vessels supplying the heart vessels becomes completely closed off, blood doesn't reach the adjacent muscles of your heart, causing a heart attack.
Stroke. Most strokes occur when one or more of the arteries to the brain become too narrow to allow sufficient blood to reach the brain. A stroke can occur when a blood clot blocks a narrowed artery or if a blood vessel in the brain breaks.
"On average, people with uncontrolled high blood pressure are three times more likely to develop coronary heart disease and seven times more likely to have a stroke than people with controlled high blood pressure," Dr. Winterton adds.
Kidney disease. Your kidneys act as a filter to rid your body of wastes. Over a number of years, high blood pressure can narrow and thicken the blood vessels in your kidneys. Eventually, your kidneys may fail altogether, necessitating a kidney transplant or treatment with a dialysis machine.
Retinopathy. Damage to your eyes can occur if you have high blood pressure and it goes untreated. Fragile blood vessels in your retina may begin to leak blood. In severe cases, blindness may result.
"If you detect high blood pressure early and get the proper treatment, you can largely avoid serious health problems," Dr. Winterton says.