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reviewed 7/25/2018

Health effects of hypertension

Hypertension is when your heart pushes blood through the body with too much force. Left untreated, it can cause damage—like weakened artery walls or restricted blood flow—that can be deadly.

Brain:

Memory loss. A buildup in the arteries to your brain reduces the amount of blood and oxygen that gets through. This can result in memory loss.

Stroke. There are 2 ways high blood pressure can lead to stroke. A buildup of plaque in the arteries—or clot thrown from a buildup elsewhere—can clog the passage to part of your brain, cutting off blood flow. Or a weak spot in an artery can break open and leak blood into your brain.

Eyes:

Eye damage. Narrowed arteries in your eyes can reduce blood flow. And weak spots can burst or bleed. The longer the damage goes untreated, the higher the likelihood of permanent eye damage and vision problems—even blindness.

Heart:

Heart attack. A buildup of plaque—or a clot—in the arteries can cut off blood flow to part of your heart, causing a heart attack.

Heart failure. Narrowed arteries throughout your body can stop blood from freely traveling. This makes your heart work harder than normal and can lead to heart failure.

Kidneys:

Chronic kidney disease. The kidneys' job is to filter blood, so they have a lot of arteries. As each artery is damaged, less blood and oxygen reach your kidneys. If enough arteries become blocked, your kidneys may fail.

Abdomen:

Aneurysm. The weak spots in your damaged arteries can become enlarged, like a balloon stretching out. This is called an aneurysm. A ruptured aneurysm is a life-threatening condition. Aneurysms may happen in the brain or abdomen.

Legs:

Peripheral arterial disease. A narrowed—or blocked—peripheral artery can hamper blood flow to your legs, stomach, arms or head. Peripheral arterial disease can lead to gangrene and amputation if blood can't flow to your legs and feet.

Check your numbers:

High blood pressure has no symptoms. So you may not know you're at risk for any of these problems until they occur. The only way to know whether you have high blood pressure is to measure it.

Sources: American Academy of Neurology; American Heart Association; National Institutes of Health

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