Hypertension and heart failure

What is hypertension?

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is one of the most common cardiovascular diseases. The force of the blood moving through the arteries to each part of the body is called blood pressure. It is natural for blood pressure to vary depending on activity or emotional state; however, if your blood pressure remains high, it can become a serious problem. Constant high blood pressure means that the heart is forced to pump blood with more force than it should be.

Hypertension is often called "the silent killer" because it rarely causes symptoms and may go unnoticed by many who have the condition. It is however important that hypertension does not go untreated as it can cause serious complications. This constant force of high blood pressure can damage the arteries and lead to life-threatening complications if left untreated, including vision problems, heart attack, stroke, kidney failure and heart failure.

How does hypertension affect the heart?

High blood pressure affects the heart by adding to the heart's workload. Over time, the higher the workload then leads to an enlarged heart. Hypertension can damage the heart and lead to an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes. Hypertension also increases the risk of developing Ischemic Heart Disease as hypertension accelerates atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries which impedes blood flow to the heart, leading to heart failure.

High blood pressure can cause ischemic heart disease where the heart muscle is no longer receiving adequate blood supply. With a lack of blood flow to the heart, ischemic heart disease may lead to a heart attack or heart failure.

Hypertension can also cause heart failure through left ventricular hypertrophy, which is the thickening of the heart muscle causing a less effective heart muscle relaxation between heartbeats. When this happens, the pressure in the heart increases and the heart can no longer pump blood to the body properly. Then, to compensate for reduced pumping power, the heart stretches and attempts to hold more blood which over time, weakens the heart muscle. As a result, the kidneys then retain fluid, leading to a fluid build-up in the arms, legs, ankles, feet and lungs. This is then called congestive heart failure.

What does treatment involve?

With Dr Griesel's post-graduate courses and training in advanced cardiac life support, he has extensive knowledge and experience in cardiovascular medicine, specifically the treatment and management of hypertension and heart failure. Treatment may vary depending on the specific type of heart failure, whether it is systolic or diastolic dysfunction. Treatment of hypertensive patients with heart failure will be aimed at lowering blood pressure, maintaining a healthy diet and medications to lessen the build-up of fluid in the body. Dr Griesel may prescribe a beta-blocker, an ACE inhibitor, or an angiotensin II receptor blocker to help treat heart failure.