This post will examine and compare the disadvantages of high blood pressure (also known as hypertension) and low blood pressure (also known as hypotension). Much of the focus will be on high blood pressure, a concept which is foreign to me. You see, over the last five years, my low blood pressure readings have caused much consternation at a variety of doctors’ offices and hospitals. But I have learned that while it is not necessarily optimal to have very low blood pressure readings, it certainly beats having a reading that is off the charts.
I have often wished that my blood pressure readings would bump up significantly. But I have learned to be careful what you wish for. Because high blood pressure might cause not only the heart failure that is plaguing me, but it could cause much more serious, even deadly consequences. I doubt that this is the case with low blood pressure, which generally falls into the category of “annoying”.
The Cedars-Sinai website advises that heart failure can be caused by untreated or inadequately treated high blood pressure. But exactly what is the causal connection? Here is what the Mayo Clinic has to say about high blood pressure and heart failure: “Over time, the strain on your heart caused by high blood pressure can cause your heart muscle to weaken and work less efficiently. Eventually, your overwhelmed heart simply begins to wear out and fail. Damage from heart attacks adds to this problem.”
The information from the Mayo Clinic seems to me to show that high blood pressure can be a cause of heart failure. But while it says that heart failure can cause low blood pressure, I have found nothing that says that low blood pressure can cause heart failure. In fact, it appears that the exact opposite is true. The Mayo Clinic says that heart failure is one of the heart conditions that can lead to low blood pressure.
Of course, there may be other causes of low blood pressure. Perhaps in my case, the effect of low blood pressure is caused by some of the medications I have to take, or the fact that I am very fit (at least for someone with heart failure). So in my case, at least for now (you always have to qualify these things) low blood pressure can be inconvenient. I may have to be careful and not go from a prone or seated position to a full upright position really fast. But other than feeling dizzy or occasionally feeling wiped out, there does not seem to be a deadly consequence.
The same cannot be said of high blood pressure. One of the deadly consequences beyond heart failure is a heart attack. The American Heart Association says that excess strain and resulting damage from high blood pressure: “causes the coronary arteries serving the heart to slowly become narrowed from a buildup of fat, cholesterol and other substances that together are called plaque. This slow process is known as atherosclerosis. As arteries harden with plaque, blood clots become more likely to form. When an artery becomes blocked due to an accumulation of plaque or a blood clot, the flow of blood through the heart muscle is interrupted, starving the muscle of oxygen and nutrients. The damage or death of part of the heart muscle that occurs as a result is called a heart attack (myocardial infarction).”
According to the Mayo Clinic, other potentially serious or even deadly consequences of high blood pressure include damage to your brain (strokes, transient ischemic attacks, dementia, and mild cognitive impairment), damage to your kidneys (kidney failure, kidney scarring, kidney artery aneurysm), and damage to the eyes (eye blood vessel damage,, fluid buildup under the retina, and nerve damage).
So what can one do to curb hypertension? You might imagine that diet is one key to fighting high blood pressure. In September of 2013, the Huffington Post cited the following from a study by the Heart Failure Society of America: “Eating a low-sodium diet could produce blood pressure benefits similar to taking anti-hypertension medicine for people with a common kind of heart failure, a small new study suggests. The research showed that three weeks of eating according to the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension — also known as the DASH diet — improved arterial function in elderly people with “diastolic” heart failure.”
I know many people hate to take medication. But sometimes it is required even if you are diligent about cutting salt and eating a healthy diet. So what are the medications and what do they do? According to the American Heart Association, the following medications might be prescribed to a patient with a hypertension problem: Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) Inhibitors, Angiotensin II Receptor blockers (ARBs) and Calcium Channel blockers.
Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors help relax blood vessels. ACE inhibitors prevent an enzyme in your body from producing angiotensin II. So what is Angiotensin II? According to the website BloodpressureUK.org, when angiotensin II enters your blood stream your blood vessels become narrower. This gives your blood less space to move in, which raises your blood pressure. And what is a calcium channel blocker? According to the Cleveland Clinic: “Calcium channel blockers affect the movement of calcium in the cells of the heart and blood vessels. As a result, a calcium channel blocker relaxes blood vessels and increases the supply of blood and oxygen to the heart, while reducing its workload.”
My very simplistic take on this is that as the drugs work their magic, the blood vessels open up and it becomes easier for blood to flow through the arteries. This facilitates the heart’s pumping action.
So how does one even know if you have an issue with your blood pressure, and how does one know if a reading is too high or too low. The American Heart Association has an item on their website entitled “how low is too low?” The AHA advises that within certain limits, the lower your blood pressure reading is, the better. Furthermore, the AHA says that there is no specific number at which day-to-day blood pressure is considered too low. But AHA does give you a number of symptoms that may indicate that should cause you to be concerned and consult a doctor.
However, the AHA will give you some definitive numbers to indicate whether you are in scary high blood pressure territory. Normal is defined as basically a systolic reading of below 120 and a diastolic reading of below 80. Once the reading rises above 120 and/or 80, you cross into riskier territory. These are defined as high blood pressure stage 1, high blood pressure stage 2 and hypertensive crisis – call your physician immediately.
But what if you don’t have a blood pressure monitor handy? There should be other symptoms that can tell you that you are in risky high blood pressure territory, right? The short answer is no. Why? Because as the website GoRedForWomen tells us, high blood pressure is known as the silent killer. It also appears that high blood pressure (also referred to as hypertension) may appear in the people who you would least expect. We often assume it affects those who are type-A, tense and aggressive. But the truth is, it has nothing to do with personality traits. In fact, you can be the most relaxed, calm person and still suffer from high blood pressure.
Making matters even murkier, according to the American Heart Association, if you think that there will be symptoms that will provide a clue that your blood pressure is climbing into the danger zone, you are sadly mistaken. While the following are troubling symptoms and you should alert your doctor if you have them, they do not necessarily mean that you have high blood pressure: Headaches or nosebleeds; blood spots in the eyes; facial flushing; and dizziness. The bottom line is that the best practice appears to be knowing what your blood pressure is and monitoring it on a fairly regular basis.
Here are some tips about high blood pressure from the Center for Disease Control website. These basically demonstrate some good life habits that might help you manage or even avoid a high blood pressure condition:
Hopefully this post has convinced you that it is a good idea to keep an eye on your blood pressure and continually monitor the numbers when they rise above a normal level. The potential damage of high blood pressure, if left untreated, is huge. Take it from me, my low blood pressure is a pain, but it was the result of my heart failure and did not cause my heart failure. But high blood pressure can be more than annoying. It can put you on the point of no return to many serious conditions and even death. So even if math is not your strength, keep an eye on the numbers in your blood pressure readings so that you do not inadvertently subtract good health from your equation!
Melanie discovered that she had heart failure in 2013. She spent the next 7 years learning how to live with the condition, and how to achieve balance and personal growth. Then in October 2020, she received a heart transplant. This blog is about her journey of the heart.