High blood pressure dangers: Hypertension's effects on your body

High blood pressure is a risk factor for more than heart disease. Discover what complications high blood pressure can cause.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

High blood pressure (hypertension) can quietly damage the body for years before symptoms develop. Uncontrolled high blood pressure can lead to disability, a poor quality of life, or even a deadly heart attack or stroke.

Treatment and lifestyle changes can help control high blood pressure to reduce the risk of life-threatening complications.

Damage to the arteries

Healthy arteries are flexible, strong and elastic. Their inner lining is smooth so that blood flows freely, supplying vital organs and tissues with nutrients and oxygen.

High blood pressure (hypertension) gradually increases the pressure of blood flowing through the arteries. Hypertension may cause:

  • Damaged and narrowed arteries. High blood pressure can damage the cells of the arteries' inner lining. When fats from the diet enter the bloodstream, they can collect in the damaged arteries. Eventually, the artery walls become less elastic, limiting blood flow throughout the body.
  • Aneurysm. Over time, the constant pressure of blood moving through a weakened artery can cause a section of its wall to enlarge and form a bulge (aneurysm). An aneurysm can potentially rupture and cause life-threatening internal bleeding. Aneurysms can form in any artery, but they're most common in the body's largest artery (aorta).

Damage to the heart

High blood pressure can cause many heart problems, including:

  • Coronary artery disease. Arteries narrowed and damaged by high blood pressure have trouble supplying blood to the heart. Too little blood flow to the heart can lead to chest pain (angina), irregular heart rhythms (arrhythmias) or a heart attack.
  • Enlarged left heart. High blood pressure forces the heart to work harder to pump blood to the rest of the body. This causes the lower left heart chamber (left ventricle) to thicken. A thickened left ventricle increases the risk of heart attack, heart failure and sudden cardiac death.
  • Heart failure. Over time, the strain on the heart caused by high blood pressure can cause the heart muscle to weaken and work less efficiently. Eventually, the overwhelmed heart begins to fail.

Damage to the brain

The brain depends on a nourishing blood supply to work properly. High blood pressure may affect the brain in the following ways:

  • Transient ischemic attack (TIA). Sometimes called a ministroke, a TIA is a brief, temporary disruption of blood supply to the brain. Hardened arteries or blood clots caused by high blood pressure can cause TIA. TIA is often a warning sign of a full-blown stroke.
  • Stroke. A stroke occurs when part of the brain doesn't get enough oxygen and nutrients, causing brain cells to die. Blood vessels damaged by high blood pressure can narrow, rupture or leak. High blood pressure can also cause blood clots to form in the arteries leading to the brain, blocking blood flow and potentially causing a stroke.
  • Dementia. Narrowed or blocked arteries can limit blood flow to the brain, leading to a certain type of dementia (vascular dementia). A stroke that interrupts blood flow to the brain can also cause vascular dementia.
  • Mild cognitive impairment. This condition is a transition stage between the changes in understanding and memory that generally come with aging and the more-serious problems caused by dementia. Studies suggest that high blood pressure can lead to mild cognitive impairment.

Damage to the kidneys

Kidneys filter excess fluid and waste from the blood — a process that requires healthy blood vessels. High blood pressure can damage the blood vessels in and leading to the kidneys. Having diabetes in addition to high blood pressure can worsen the damage.

Kidney problems caused by high blood pressure include:

  • Kidney scarring (glomerulosclerosis). This type of kidney damage occurs when tiny blood vessels within the kidney become scarred and unable to effectively filter fluid and waste from the blood. Glomerulosclerosis can lead to kidney failure.
  • Kidney failure. High blood pressure is one of the most common causes of kidney failure. Damaged blood vessels prevent kidneys from effectively filtering waste from the blood, allowing dangerous levels of fluid and waste to collect. Treatment may include dialysis or kidney transplantation.

Damage to the eyes

High blood pressure can damage the tiny, delicate blood vessels that supply blood to the eyes, causing:

  • Damage to the blood vessels in the retina (retinopathy). Damage to the blood vessels in the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye (retina) can lead to bleeding in the eye, blurred vision and complete loss of vision. Having diabetes in addition to high blood pressure increase the risk of retinopathy.
  • Fluid buildup under the retina (choroidopathy). Choroidopathy can result in distorted vision or sometimes scarring that impairs vision.
  • Nerve damage (optic neuropathy). Blocked blood flow can damage the optic nerve, leading to bleeding within the eye or vision loss.

Sexual dysfunction

The inability to have and maintain an erection (erectile dysfunction) becomes increasingly common in men as they reach age 50. But men with high blood pressure are even more likely to experience erectile dysfunction. That's because limited blood flow caused by high blood pressure can block blood from flowing to the penis.

Women may also experience sexual dysfunction as a result of high blood pressure. Reduced blood flow to the vagina can lead to a decrease in sexual desire or arousal, vaginal dryness, or difficulty achieving orgasm.

High blood pressure emergencies

High blood pressure is usually a chronic condition that gradually causes damage over years. But sometimes blood pressure rises so quickly and severely that it becomes a medical emergency requiring immediate treatment, often with hospitalization.

In these situations, high blood pressure can cause:

  • Blindness
  • Chest pain
  • Complications in pregnancy (preeclampsia or eclampsia)
  • Heart attack
  • Memory loss, personality changes, trouble concentrating, irritability or progressive loss of consciousness
  • Severe damage to the body's main artery (aortic dissection)
  • Stroke
  • Sudden impaired pumping of the heart, leading to fluid backup in the lungs resulting in shortness of breath (pulmonary edema)
  • Sudden loss of kidney function

From Mayo Clinic to your inbox

Sign up for free, and stay up to date on research advancements, health tips and current health topics, like COVID-19, plus expertise on managing health.

To provide you with the most relevant and helpful information, and understand which information is beneficial, we may combine your email and website usage information with other information we have about you. If you are a Mayo Clinic patient, this could include protected health information. If we combine this information with your protected health information, we will treat all of that information as protected health information and will only use or disclose that information as set forth in our notice of privacy practices. You may opt-out of email communications at any time by clicking on the unsubscribe link in the e-mail.

Jan. 14, 2022 See more In-depth

See also

  1. Medication-free hypertension control
  2. After a flood, are food and medicines safe to use?
  3. Alcohol: Does it affect blood pressure?
  4. Alpha blockers
  5. Amputation and diabetes
  6. Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors
  7. Angiotensin II receptor blockers
  8. Anxiety: A cause of high blood pressure?
  9. Arteriosclerosis / atherosclerosis
  10. Artificial sweeteners: Any effect on blood sugar?
  11. AskMayoMom Pediatric Urology
  12. Beta blockers
  13. Beta blockers: Do they cause weight gain?
  14. Beta blockers: How do they affect exercise?
  15. Birth control pill FAQ
  16. Blood glucose meters
  17. Blood glucose monitors
  18. Blood pressure: Can it be higher in one arm?
  19. Blood pressure chart
  20. Blood pressure cuff: Does size matter?
  21. Blood pressure: Does it have a daily pattern?
  22. Blood pressure: Is it affected by cold weather?
  23. Blood pressure medication: Still necessary if I lose weight?
  24. Blood pressure medications: Can they raise my triglycerides?
  25. Blood pressure readings: Why higher at home?
  26. Blood pressure test
  27. Blood pressure tip: Get more potassium
  28. Blood pressure tip: Get off the couch
  29. Blood pressure tip: Know alcohol limits
  30. Blood pressure tip: Stress out no more
  31. Blood pressure tip: Watch the caffeine
  32. Blood pressure tip: Watch your weight
  33. Blood sugar levels can fluctuate for many reasons
  34. Blood sugar testing: Why, when and how
  35. Bone and joint problems associated with diabetes
  36. How kidneys work
  37. Build resilience to better handle diabetes
  38. Bump on the head: When is it a serious head injury?
  39. Caffeine and hypertension
  40. Calcium channel blockers
  41. Calcium supplements: Do they interfere with blood pressure drugs?
  42. Can whole-grain foods lower blood pressure?
  43. Caring for a loved one with diabetes
  44. Central-acting agents
  45. Choosing blood pressure medications
  46. Chronic daily headaches
  47. Chronic kidney disease
  48. Coarctation of the aorta
  49. COVID-19: Who's at higher risk of serious symptoms?
  50. Cushing syndrome
  51. DASH diet
  52. DASH diet
  53. DASH diet: Recommended servings
  54. DASH diet: Shopping and cooking tips
  55. Diabetes
  56. Diabetes and dental care
  57. Diabetes and depression: Coping with the two conditions
  58. Diabetes and exercise: When to monitor your blood sugar
  59. Diabetes and fasting: Can I fast during Ramadan?
  60. Diabetes and foot care
  61. Diabetes and Heat
  62. 10 ways to avoid diabetes complications
  63. Diabetes diet: Should I avoid sweet fruits?
  64. Diabetes diet: Create your healthy-eating plan
  65. Diabetes foods: Can I substitute honey for sugar?
  66. Diabetes and liver
  67. Diabetes management: How lifestyle, daily routine affect blood sugar
  68. Diabetes: Eating out
  69. Diabetes nutrition: Sweets
  70. Diabetes symptoms
  71. Diabetes treatment: Can cinnamon lower blood sugar?
  72. Using insulin
  73. Diuretics
  74. Diuretics: A cause of low potassium?
  75. Diuretics: Cause of gout?
  76. Dizziness
  77. Do infrared saunas have any health benefits?
  78. Do you know your blood pressure?
  79. Drug addiction (substance use disorder)
  80. High blood pressure and exercise
  81. Fibromuscular dysplasia
  82. Free blood pressure machines: Are they accurate?
  83. Home blood pressure monitoring
  84. Glomerulonephritis
  85. Glycemic index: A helpful tool for diabetes?
  86. Guillain-Barre syndrome
  87. Headaches 101: Know your type
  88. Headaches and hormones
  89. Headaches: Treatment depends on your diagnosis and symptoms
  90. Herbal supplements and heart drugs
  91. High blood pressure (hypertension)
  92. High blood pressure and cold remedies: Which are safe?
  93. High blood pressure and sex
  94. High blood pressure: Can you prevent it?
  95. How opioid addiction occurs
  96. How to tell if a loved one is abusing opioids
  97. Hunter syndrome
  98. Hypertensive crisis: What are the symptoms?
  99. Hypothermia
  100. IgA nephropathy (Berger's disease)
  101. Insulin and weight gain
  102. Intracranial hematoma
  103. Isolated systolic hypertension: A health concern?
  104. What is kidney disease? An expert explains
  105. Kidney disease FAQs
  106. Kratom for opioid withdrawal
  107. L-arginine: Does it lower blood pressure?
  108. Late-night eating: OK if you have diabetes?
  109. Preventing lead exposure
  110. Lead poisoning
  111. Low-phosphorus diet: Helpful for kidney disease?
  112. Medications and supplements that can raise your blood pressure
  113. Menopause and high blood pressure: What's the connection?
  114. Molar pregnancy
  115. MRI: Is gadolinium safe for people with kidney problems?
  116. New Test for Preeclampsia
  117. Nighttime headaches: Relief
  118. Nosebleeds
  119. Sleep apnea, obstructive
  120. Obstructive Sleep Apnea
  121. Pain Management
  122. Pheochromocytoma
  123. Picnic Problems: High Sodium
  124. Pituitary tumors
  125. Polycystic kidney disease
  126. Polypill: Does it treat heart disease?
  127. Porphyria
  128. Postpartum preeclampsia
  129. Preeclampsia
  130. Prescription drug abuse
  131. Primary aldosteronism
  132. Pulse pressure: An indicator of heart health?
  133. Mayo Clinic Minute: Rattlesnakes, scorpions and other desert dangers
  134. Reactive hypoglycemia: What can I do?
  135. Reading food labels
  136. Renal diet for vegetarians
  137. Resperate: Can it help reduce blood pressure?
  138. Sample DASH menus
  139. Scorpion sting
  140. Secondary hypertension
  141. Serotonin syndrome
  142. Service dogs assist with diabetes care
  143. Sleep deprivation: A cause of high blood pressure?
  144. Sleep tips
  145. Vegetable recipes
  146. Blood sugar testing
  147. Snoring
  148. Snoring solution: Sleep on your side
  149. Spider bites
  150. Stress and headaches: Stop the cycle
  151. Stress and high blood pressure
  152. Symptom Checker
  153. Takayasu's arteritis
  154. Tapering off opioids: When and how
  155. Tetanus
  156. Tetanus shots: Is it risky to receive 'extra' boosters?
  157. The dawn phenomenon: What can you do?
  158. Tips for cutting costs of blood glucose test strips
  159. Infographic: Transplant for Polycystic Kidney Disease
  160. Vasodilators
  161. Vegetarian diet: Can it help me control my diabetes?
  162. Vesicoureteral reflux
  163. Video: Heart and circulatory system
  164. How diabetes affects your blood sugar
  165. How to measure blood pressure using a manual monitor
  166. How to measure blood pressure using an automatic monitor
  167. Obstructive sleep apnea: What happens?
  168. What is blood pressure?
  169. Can having vitamin D deficiency cause high blood pressure?
  170. What are opioids and why are they dangerous?
  171. What's your high blood pressure risk?
  172. White coat hypertension
  173. Wrist blood pressure monitors: Are they accurate?
  174. Effectively managing chronic kidney disease