Although hypertension (high blood pressure) affects nearly half of all adults, many people don’t fully understand the condition. Getting answers to common questions about high blood pressure allows you to make more informed decisions regarding your lifestyle and your health.

Chronic high blood pressure impacts many parts of the body and can cause a variety of health complications. If you have hypertension, your blood pressure may continue to increase over time without treatment, increasing your risk of complications.

Risks of High Blood Pressure for Heart Disease, Heart Attack and Stroke 

Having high blood pressure is not the same as heart disease. Heart disease is the term for a group of conditions that affect the heart. If you have high blood pressure, you’re more likely to develop heart disease. The risk becomes greater if you also have high blood sugar levels, high triglycerides (fats in the blood) , low HDL-C (“good cholesterol”),  or excess belly fat. These conditions grouped together are known as metabolic syndrome.

How does High Blood Pressure Affect the Heart?

When your blood pressure is high, your blood exerts more force upon the walls of your arteries than normal. Your heart must pump harder to push blood through your body, and less blood may flow into your heart. This can overwork the organ and deprive it of oxygen.

Stage 1 or early hypertension is unlikely to cause any symptoms. If the condition progresses and blood pressure continues to rise, you may develop symptoms. Prolonged periods of uncontrolled hypertension carry many health risks. 

Can High Blood Pressure Cause a Heart Attack?

Many people don’t fully understand the connection between high blood pressure and heart attack. A short-lived spike in blood pressure is unlikely to cause a heart attack. However, over time, hypertension can damage the blood vessels that supply the heart,, making a heart attack more likely to happen.

Is Blood Pressure High During a Heart Attack?

In some people, blood pressure rises during a heart attack due to the release of hormones that send the body into flight or fight mode during times of intense stress. Other people experience no change in blood pressure during a heart attack. Sometimes blood pressure drops during a heart attack due to damage to the heart muscle. As a result, measuring blood pressure is not an effective way to determine if someone is having a heart attack. 

Can High Blood Pressure Cause Shortness of Breath?

Hypertension can indirectly cause shortness of breath. If chronic uncontrolled high blood pressure damages the heart, you may develop shortness of breath as a symptom of a heart condition.

A specific type of high blood pressure called pulmonary hypertension may also cause shortness of breath. Pulmonary hypertension happens when blood pressure levels rise in the arteries that lead to the lungs. The condition is not the same as general hypertension, but it is possible to have both.

Can High Blood Pressure Cause a Stroke?

The relationship between high blood pressure and stroke is similar to how hypertension relates to heart disease. High blood pressure can raise your risk of suffering a stroke if it remains elevated over prolonged periods of time.

Ischemic strokes occur when blood flow to the brain becomes interrupted. Damage to the blood vessels due to high blood pressure can make this more likely to happen. In addition, severe hypertension could cause a blood vessel to burst, resulting in stroke.

Other Heart-Related Dangers of High Blood Pressure

  • Heart failure: The heart can be damaged from having to constantly work harder to pump blood against the high resistance caused by hypertension. This can progress  to the point where the heart is no longer able to efficiently pump blood throughout the body.
  • Angina: Reduced blood flow and oxygen to the heart from hypertension may cause chest pain or angina.
  • Peripheral artery disease (PAD): High blood pressure can narrow the arteries that carry blood to the legs, arms and the rest of the body, reducing circulation and sometimes leading to pain with activities.

High Blood Pressure, Mood Swings and Anxiety

High blood pressure is unlikely to cause mood swings. However, stress, anxiety and depression can lead to increased blood pressure, and all three may negatively impact mood.

Severe anxiety is a common symptom of dangerously high blood pressure or a hypertensive crisis. Anxiety can also contribute to high blood pressure.

In some cases, the effects of anxiety on blood pressure are short-lived. For example, some people experience high blood pressure before surgery due to anxiety. Once the procedure is over, blood pressure levels return to normal.

Some people with anxiety disorders turn to unhealthy habits to calm their symptoms, and these lifestyle choices may contribute to hypertension. Smoking, drinking alcohol in excess and binge-eating that results in weight gain can increase your risk of high blood pressure.

How High Blood Pressure Affects the Kidneys

High blood pressure can cause the blood vessels that carry blood to your kidneys to constrict. This can interfere with the ability of kidneys to remove waste and extra fluid. The negative relationship between high blood pressure and the kidneys then continues, as excess fluid in the body can further increase blood pressure. This leads to further kidney damage.

High Blood Pressure & Diabetes

Diabetes can cause arteries to stiffen, making it more difficult for blood to circulate. High blood pressure can develop as a result. The increased pressure damages arteries further, causing them to narrow. This makes you more at risk of developing certain complications from diabetes, such as eye and kidney disease.

FAQs: Other Common Effects of High Blood Pressure

Can High Blood Pressure Cause Vertigo(an Abnormal Spinning Sensation) or Dizziness?

Sudden vertigo can indicate a hypertensive crisis due to dangerously high blood pressure. Otherwise, hypertension is unlikely to cause vertigo and dizziness other than if it has already caused damage to the blood vessels, heart, or brain.

Some blood pressure medications can cause lightheadedness as a side effect. Often, dizziness caused by blood pressure medicine occurs upon standing. In some cases, fainting may also occur.

Can High Blood Pressure Cause Ringing in the Ears?

High blood pressure may cause or worsen tinnitus or ringing in the ears. This happens when blood vessels that carry blood to the ears narrow due to hypertension. Usually, blood pressure must be severely elevated to cause ringing in the ears. You’re unlikely to experience it as a result of Stage 1 or early hypertension.

Can High Blood Pressure Cause Erectile Dysfunction?

Yes, high blood pressure can contribute to erectile dysfunction in men. When uncontrolled, high blood pressure causes arteries to narrow. This can reduce blood flow to the penis, making it difficult for men to get and maintain erections. In addition, high blood pressure can make it hard to ejaculate.

Can High Blood Pressure Cause Seizures?

Yes, high blood pressure can cause seizures. However, this normally only occurs when blood pressure levels reach dangerously high levels. Doctors call extremely high blood pressure a hypertensive crisis.

A study conducted at the Boston University School of Medicine found that hypertension may increase the risk of older adults developing the seizure disorder epilepsy. More research is necessary to determine whether hypertension is the actual cause of this finding.

Can High Blood Pressure Cause Weight Gain?

If the kidneys become damaged due to high blood pressure, you may gain weight due to fluid retention. Sudden weight gain is a common symptom of potentially dangerous increases in blood pressure during pregnancy.

Being obese can increase your risk of hypertension. Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight through diet and exercise often lowers blood pressure levels.

Can High Blood Pressure Cause Blurry Vision?

High blood pressure can cause blurry vision if blood pressure levels are very high. This happens when the blood vessels that carry blood to your eyes narrow due to the increased force of blood flow. Sudden blurred vision can be a warning sign of a hypertensive crisis.

What is Dangerously High Blood Pressure?

Dangerously high blood pressure or a hypertensive crisis can cause severe symptoms and be life-threatening. Some possible signs of a hypertensive crisis include extremely elevated blood pressure and:

  • Chest pain
  • Severe headache
  • Confusion
  • Blurred vision
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Severe anxiety
  • Shortness of breath
  • Seizures
  • Unconsciousness

When is Blood Pressure Dangerously High?

The American Heart Association defines blood pressure requiring immediate consultation with a doctor as:

  • Systolic (top number) over 180 mmHg

and/or

  • Diastolic (bottom number) over 120 mmHg

What is Considered Stroke Level High Blood Pressure?

Strokes can occur at any level of blood pressure, but the risks rise greatly as blood pressure increases to very high levels, particularly for prolonged periods of time

How Forward can Help you Lower your Risk of High Blood Pressure Complications

Through our 12-week, doctor-led Healthy Heart program, we can help you better understand your risk for heart attack and take steps to improve your heart health. Based on the findings of comprehensive blood testing and other health metrics, we act as your primary care provider and design a plan to help you accomplish your health goals. The program includes diet and exercise optimization to set you up for success, and weekly weight and blood pressure monitoring allows you to clearly see the benefits of the changes you make.

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