According to the World Health Organization, high blood pressure affects more than 1.13 billion people worldwide. In fact, it’s currently one of the leading risk factors of global mortality, accounting for approximately 7.5 million deaths, which is almost 13 percent of all the total deaths around the world.
It can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, race or ethnicity, although China and India share the burden of having the most people with this disease. You may even be unknowingly suffering from it even though you feel perfectly well. But what exactly is this “silent killer” and how can it slowly destroy your well-being? In order for you to understand this illness better, let’s first define what blood pressure is and how your cardiovascular system works.
Understanding the Circulatory System and Blood Pressure
The cardiovascular system is made up of three major parts: the heart, blood and blood vessels, which include the arteries, capillaries and veins. As you know, the heart’s job is to pump blood throughout the circulatory system.
In a systemic circulation, the oxygen-rich blood, which also carries nutrients, travels through an intricate network of arteries and capillaries and is delivered to different body parts. Meanwhile, in a pulmonary circulation, the oxygen-depleted blood, which also carries waste products like carbon dioxide from your body organs, is transported back to the heart through the veins.
You may have noticed that arteries are more talked about when it comes to high blood pressure. That is because blood pressure refers to the force that the blood exerts on the artery walls as it’s pumped out of your heart to the rest of the body. High blood pressure, on the other hand, is a condition wherein the blood travels through the arteries with more force than normal.
How Does High Blood Pressure Affect Your Body?
The first body parts that high blood pressure affects are your heart and arteries. Your arteries can tolerate the normal blood pressure that’s generated from the heart. However, chronic high blood pressure may cause small tears in the artery walls, where LDL cholesterol may collect and begin to clog these arteries.
As this cholesterol builds up on the artery walls, your arteries become rigid, thicker and narrow, giving the blood less space to flow, which further increases your blood pressure levels. In order to compensate for the lower blood flow, your heart has to work harder, and this extra workload eventually puts you at risk of heart attack or heart failure.
The effects of persistent high blood pressure are not just confined to the circulatory system, though. The organs that are connected to your blocked arteries will be robbed of their sufficient supply of oxygen and nutrients, which may cause them to malfunction, or worse, lead to organ failure.
The damage that high blood pressure may do to your body starts small, but can progressively worsen over a long period of time if unaddressed. The good news is that you can lower your risk for this illness or prevent its life-threatening complications if you understand why it occurs in the first place and how you can control it.