High blood pressure is a serious health condition that can lead to heart attack and stroke. «Common causes of heart failure are high blood pressure (hypertension) and coronary artery disease. These often coexist,» says Dr. David Majure, medical director of the Heart Transplant Service at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. «Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries, and high blood pressure can damage the arteries and increase the workload of the heart and blood vessels. As time goes on, the heart may start to fail and not pump as effectively as it did in the past.» Here are five signs of high blood pressure you should never ignore. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You’ve Already Had COVID.
Vision issues could be a sign of high blood pressure, experts warn. «We can see changes due to vascular conditions caused by diabetes or hypertension,» says Dr. William White, an optometrist with Baylor Scott & White Health in Temple, Texas. «The blood vessels in the retina can become a little more stiff and hardened. They’ll push on each other and cross, like two hoses in a confined space. When it gets really bad, we’ll see some of the blood vessels start to leak, we’ll see some hemorrhaging. And that can cause a whole range of vision issues.»
Unchecked stress can lead to high blood pressure. «Managing hypertension (stress) is really 70% lifestyle and 30% medications,» says preventive cardiologist Luke Laffin, MD. «I always talk to patients about the impact of sleep on heart health, and how stress impacts sleep. If stress and anxiety are leading to a lot of blood pressure elevation, we can try medications called beta-blockers. They’re not the first line of treatment for blood pressure in most people, but they can be helpful for people with significant stress and anxiety because they decrease your sympathetic nervous system activity and slow down your heart rate in stressful situations.»
Binge drinking is strongly linked to high blood pressure, doctors say. «If people drink in excess, alcohol can lead to high blood pressure, stroke, and heart failure,» says Dr. Nisha Jhalani, director of clinical and educational services at the Center for Interventional Vascular Therapy at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center. «Binge drinking can also cause atrial fibrillation (irregular heart rhythm). I’m not saying that it’s necessary to live a stringent life. What’s key to remember is that everything is fine in moderation, alcohol included.»
Having sleep issues is linked to high blood pressure. «The less you sleep, the higher your blood pressure may go,» says Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, MD. «People who sleep six hours or less may have steeper increases in blood pressure. If you already have high blood pressure, not sleeping well may make your blood pressure worse.»
Difficulty breathing could be a sign of high blood pressure. «That is the most common presenting symptom,» says Vallerie McLaughlin, MD, director of the Pulmonary Hypertension Program at the University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center. «[It’s because] the right side of the heart is having trouble pushing blood flow through the lungs — and it’s not getting to the left side of the heart and body. It puts strain on the right side of the heart, which is not used to pushing against the high pressure.»