The Silent Threat

Unveiling the damaging effects of prolonged hypertension on eyesight, cardiovascular health, and cognitive function

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Published: Wed 17 May 2023, 10:57 AM

Hypertension, popularly known as high blood pressure, is a chronic medical condition that affects millions of people worldwide. It occurs when the force of blood against the walls of the arteries is consistently too high. While the consequences of hypertension are often associated with cardiovascular health, doctors from Thumbay University Hospital emphasise the significant impact it can have on other vital organs, including the eyes, heart, and brain.

Taking care of the eyes

Prolonged high blood pressure can cause damage to the delicate blood vessels in the eyes. Dr Kiran Kumar, Chair, Medicine Department, Head of Internal Medicine Division at Thumbay University Hospital said that it can result in several eye-related conditions, including:

Hypertensive Retinopathy: It can lead to changes in the blood vessels of the retina, the light-sensitive layer at the back of the eye, causing them to narrow down, even bleeding or leaking of the vessels that can subsequently create vision problems or even vision loss- if left untreated.

Optic Neuropathy: Hypertension can further damage the optic nerve, which transmits visual information from the eyes to the brain.

Retinal Vein Occlusion: Elevated blood pressure also increases the risk of blood clot formation, which can block the retinal veins, leading to retinal vein occlusion. This condition can cause sudden vision loss or blurry vision.

He added: “Regular eye examinations are crucial for individuals with hypertension, as early detection and treatment of these eye-related complications can help prevent irreversible vision loss.”

Lowering heart failure risks

In addition, Dr Karim Ghannem, Specialist Interventional Cardiologist at Thumbay University Hospital, stated: “Hypertension significantly strains the cardiovascular system, contributing to the development of coronary artery disease. This occurs, especially when the arteries supplying blood to the heart become narrowed or blocked, thus, increasing the risk of heart attacks, chest pain (angina), and other cardiovascular complications. In a few cases, the heart muscles thicken and enlarge in response to the increased workload caused by hypertension. This hypertrophy of the heart can disrupt its normal functioning, potentially leading to heart failure, arrhythmias, or sudden cardiac arrest.”

Safeguarding your brain

The brain relies on a steady supply of oxygen-rich blood to function properly and hypertension can have detrimental effects on brain health, explains Dr Vivek Karan, Consultant Neurologist at Thumbay University Hospital. He added: “Chronic hypertension increases the risk of cerebral infarction, commonly known as an ischemic stroke, wherein a clot or narrowed artery reduces blood flow to a part of the brain, resulting in tissue damage and potential long-term disability. In severe cases of uncontrolled high blood pressure, it can further cause hypertensive encephalopathy. This condition is characterised by swelling and dysfunction of the brain, leading to symptoms such as headaches, seizures, confusion, and even coma.

In conclusion, managing hypertension requires a comprehensive approach that includes not only the cardiovascular system but also the impact on the eyes, heart, and brain. By staying proactive, individuals can take control of their health, minimise complications, and lead a fulfilling life.

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