How Hypertension Harms Your Health
Hypertension operates with great stealth. Although it seldom produces symptoms, the intense pounding of blood associated with it gradually damages artery walls. Small arteries are especially vulnerable. The walls respond by thickening and losing their elasticity and strength. As a result, less blood can pass through them, depriving surrounding tissues of oxygen and nutrients. The vessel walls are also more prone to rupture. Eventually, hypertension damages not just the blood vessels themselves, but also the heart, brain, kidneys, and eyes. These are the “target organs” of hypertension — those most likely to be affected by the disease (see Figure 8).
The longer you have hypertension, the greater your chances of developing target-organ damage and, consequently, serious disorders such as heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, and impaired vision.
African Americans are particularly at risk: not only are they more likely to develop hypertension, but they are also more apt to suffer from its complications. African Americans with hypertension have higher rates of stroke, heart disease, kidney disease, and diabetes compared with whites who have hypertension. African Americans are also more likely to die as a result of hypertension than whites are.
Figure 8: Danger zones
Hypertension can have far-reaching effects. High blood pressure not only harms your arteries and blood vessels, making them stiffer and more narrow, but it can also damage your heart, brain, eyes, and kidneys — which, for this reason, are known as the “target organs” of hypertension.