Effects of High Blood Pressure: What Does High Blood Pressure Do To Your Body?

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Effects of High Blood Pressure: What Does High Blood Pressure Do To Your Body?

High blood pressure can damage the body in two ways: 1) slowly (chronically) or 2) quickly (acutely).1 Thus, the effects of high blood pressure can be seen both in the short-term and the long-term. The concept seems simple enough. Yet, it is important to understand the difference between short-term and long-term effects of high blood pressure because both can be life threatening.

Effects of High Blood Pressure


Over the long-term, chronic hypertension can damage essentially every organ in the body. Unfortunately, high blood pressure does not usually cause any immediate symptoms. This is why it is commonly called the “silent killer.” Nonetheless, high blood pressure can lead to atherosclerosis, heart disease, heart attack, stroke, congestive heart failure, and kidney disease among many other possible complications. And, this damage can occur more quickly than you think, sometimes within 8-10 years of developing hypertension.1

Mild-to-moderate hypertension, if left untreated, is associated with a 30% risk of atherosclerotic disease and a 50% risk of organ damage after only 8-10 years of onset. Death rates from both ischemic heart disease and stroke increase progressively as BP increases. For every 20 mm Hg systolic or 10 mm Hg diastolic increase in BP above 115/75 mm Hg, the mortality rate for both ischemic heart disease and stroke doubles.


Acute, dramatic elevations in blood pressure are classified into three categories:

  • Severe Hypertension – Blood pressure above 180/110 without symptoms

  • Hypertensive Urgency – Blood Pressure above 180/110 with mild end organ effects, such as headache or shortness of breath

  • Hypertensive Emergency – Blood Pressure above 220/140 with life-threatening end-organ dysfunction, such as stroke or kidney failure

As you can see from the classifications listed above, a rapid rise in blood pressure to extremely high levels can cause immediate and potentially deadly damage to one or more essential body systems.

Whether the rise in blood pressure is fast or slow, it must be treated quickly and appropriately! (See Blood Pressure Medical Treatments and Blood Pressure Lifestyle Modifications.)

1. Riaz K, Batuman V. Hypertension. http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/241381-overview.: Medscape Reference; 2012.