What Happens If High Blood Pressure Goes Untreated?

According to The World Health Organization (WHO), nearly 1.3 billion people worldwide are affected by high blood pressure, and almost 50% of them are unaware they have the condition at all. High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, costs the U.S. healthcare system an estimated $131 billion a year, so it is a pressing health concern (via Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Blood pressure is the measure of the pressure of blood against the arteries, the vessels responsible for sending blood from the heart to the rest of the body. Various factors such as obesity, smoking, alcohol use, high cholesterol, and family history can contribute to elevated blood pressure. Given that nearly half of those affected are unaware of their condition, leading to the nickname the "silent killer," complications may arise seemingly out of nowhere. 

Although some with high blood pressure may have an absence of symptoms, others may experience headaches, dizziness, nosebleeds, chest pain, or fatigue. Currently, the only way to determine if a person has high blood pressure is through consistently high blood pressure readings. This is usually done during a visit to a healthcare provider, but at-home readings can also be beneficial in making the diagnosis. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends blood pressure screening on adults 18 and over. While the condition may seem benign at first, untreated high blood pressure can lead to serious health complications. 

High blood pressure can affect all organ systems

Prolonged and untreated high blood pressure can lead to damage within the artery walls. This can cause weakening, enlargement (aneurysm), or narrowing of arteries necessary for proper blood flow (via Mayo Clinic). Depending on the severity, aneurysms can rupture, causing internal bleeding and sometimes even death. Untreated high blood pressure can also lead to heart disease, heart attack, left heart enlargement, heart failure, stroke, kidney failure, vision loss, and more.

Considering the serious and potentially life-threatening complications associated with untreated high blood pressure, quick and effective management is key. A primary care provider or cardiologist can prescribe blood pressure regulating medication, along with lifestyle and dietary modifications. Adhering to a low salt diet, avoiding alcohol and tobacco, increasing vegetable and fruit intake, and decreasing trans and saturated fats are all dietary changes that can help lower blood pressure and promote a healthy heart (via World Health Organization). 

Regardless of whether or not symptoms are present, it is important to be aware that high blood pressure can happen to anyone, and decreasing modifiable risk factors as much as possible will only lead to a healthier and potentially longer life. High blood pressure is easily preventable in most cases and should be discussed at your next medical appointment.