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High Blood Pressure Damage

17th Sept. 2003
High blood pressure operates with great stealth. Although it seldom produces symptoms, the intense pounding of blood gradually damages the organs within the circulation system: the heart and arteries.

Artery damage interferes with normal circulation through two changes:

  • Wall thickening occurs because arteries respond to high blood pressure as if they are part of an athletic weight-training program: They thicken their muscle layers. Unfortunately, this muscle thickening does not make arteries stronger. Instead, by thickening, arteries lose their elasticity, making them more fragile and prone to rupture. Thickening also narrows the passageway for blood flow. Small arteries are especially vulnerable.
  • Atherosclerosis is a buildup of cholesterol within the artery walls. Just as a strong ocean tide stirs up sea foam and leaves deposits along the shore, high blood pressure causes debris from the bloodstream, including fats and cholesterol, to collect along the artery walls and to become embedded within the walls. Deposits are thickest in areas with the most turbulent blood flow — places where important arteries divide or bend can have the most sizable deposits, or "plaques." A plaque can develop cracks that trigger a blood clot to form. A blood clot can create a sudden blockage in the artery, cutting off oxygen. This can result in a heart attack or stroke.

High blood pressure eventually damages the organs that rely most heavily on continuous and efficient blood flow — the heart, brain, kidneys, eyes and blood vessels. These are the "target organs" of high blood pressure.

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