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FAQ (Health)

 Dr. George Jacob
Heart Infocenter


Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)

Consequences Of Untreated High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure is dangerous because it makes the heart work too hard. It also makes the walls of the arteries hard. High blood pressure increases the risk for heart disease and stroke. High blood pressure can also cause other problems, such as heart failure, kidney disease, and blindness. The ultimate consequence of long term high blood pressure could be death.


High blood pressure is the most important risk factor for stroke. Very high pressure can cause a break in a weakened blood vessel, which then bleeds in the brain. This can cause a stroke. If a blood clot blocks one of the narrowed arteries, it can also cause a stroke.

Impaired Vision

High blood pressure can eventually cause blood vessels in the eye to burst or bleed. Vision may become blurred or otherwise impaired and can result in blindness.

Arteries and Coronary-artery disease

As people get older, arteries throughout the body "harden," especially those in the heart, brain, and kidneys. High blood pressure is associated with these "stiffer" arteries. This, in turn, causes the heart and kidneys to work harder.

Kidney Damage

The kidneys act as filters to rid the body of wastes. Over time, high blood pressure can narrow and thicken the blood vessels of the kidneys. The kidneys filter less fluid, and waste builds up in the blood. The kidneys may fail altogether. When this happens, medical treatment (dialysis) or a kidney transplant may be needed.

Heart Attack

High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart attack. The arteries bring oxygen-carrying blood to the heart muscle. If the heart cannot get enough oxygen, chest pain, also known as "angina," can occur. If the flow of blood is blocked, a heart attack results.

Congestive Heart Failure

High blood pressure is the number one risk factor for congestive heart failure (CHF). CHF is a serious condition in which the heart is unable to pump enough blood to supply the body's needs.

According to American Heart Association:
  • High blood pressure is implicated in many of the deaths and disabilities resulting from strokes. Strokes killed 143,640 people in the United States in 1992. Nearly 36,000 more lives were lost because of high blood pressure or hypertensive disease.

  • Nearly 58 million Americans have one or more forms of heart or blood vessel disease.

  • In 1992 an estimated 925,000 deaths were caused by heart attack, stroke and related diseases. 

People with high blood pressure are twice as likely to get heart attacks and eight times as likely to get strokes as the normal population, especially if they are over fifty-five.

High blood pressure can lead to hypertensive heart disease. It makes the heart work harder to push blood through the vascular system. It can make the heart grow in size and at the same time tire it out (and finally quit) with possible fatal consequences. Increase in blood pressure also may contribute to the building of fatty deposits on the artery walls and eventually to clog them.

Studies have shown that hypertension may also shrink the size of the brain. This, in turn, may affect intellectual and cognitive functions. For example, the researchers at University of Pittsburgh found that people with hypertension consistently scored lower than those with normal blood pressure on memory, attention and abstract reasoning tests. We should point out, though, that the researchers are unsure whether these impairments are caused by high blood pressure or are a by-product of the processes that trigger hypertension. 

Another study reported in the December 20, 1995 issue of JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) found that the risk of poor cognitive function at mid life increased progressively with increasing levels of systolic pressure . For every increase of 10 mm mercury (pressure), the risk of poor cognitive function increased 9 percent. Conversely, a study of 37,000 people, reported in Lancet (Journal of British Medical Association), found that for every five to six points that a person's blood pressure is reduced, the risk of coronary heart disease declines by 20 to 25 percent and the risk of stroke by 30 to 40 percent. So, it is definitely worth getting your heart pressure brought back to normal.

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