The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently found that of the 70 percent of American adults over age 65 who have high blood pressure (hypertension), half of them are unable to control it. That’s because about 26.3 percent of Medicare beneficiaries, who are receiving their drugs at low or no out-of-pocket cost, struggle at regularly taking their blood pressure medication and often fail to adhere to their drug regimen.
High Blood Pressure Leads to Deadly Disease
High blood pressure is one of many silent killers. It works slowly and without pain or symptoms. Despite its silence, it has profound effects on the cardiovascular system, which can consequently lead to major problems with your vital organs.
Damage to Arteries
One of the biggest health risks of having high blood pressure is that the condition causes the movement of your blood to put extra pressure on the elasticity of your arteries. The pressure crushes the cells on the artery wall, and in response, the cells create a harder, thicker wall to compensate. Permanent stiffening of the artery walls is called arteriosclerosis.
Rigid artery walls can constrict blood flow to your organs, which rely on regular supplies of blood to function. Your heart, kidneys, brain, arms, and legs can all lose the blood supply they require, which causes them to either function inefficiently or fail. When weak arteries are pushed too hard, they may sometimes form a bulge (an aneurysm). If an aneurysm erupts, it may cause internal bleeding that could be fatal.
Harm to Brain
Your brain also suffers from a lack of blood supply when you have high blood pressure. Those with high blood pressure are at higher risk of transient ischemic attack (TIA), a brief interruption in blood supply to the brain, and full-blown stroke when you live with hypertension.
You could also experience mild cognitive impairment, which could lead to debilitating mental conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Injury to Heart
When blood is unable to flow properly to your heart, it doesn’t take long for you to develop coronary artery disease. This narrowing of the blood vessels can lead to severe pain in the chest and heart attack if left unchecked.
The left ventricle of your heart will sometimes attempt to grow while trying to increase strength so it can manage the extra work caused by hypertension. In doing so, it grows too thick and stiff, which increases the risk of heart attack, heart failure, and unexpected cardiac arrest.
High blood puts extra pressure on your arteries and puts you at risk for a number of health problems.
Impairment of Reproductive System
High blood pressure increases the risk of erectile dysfunction in men. When blood flow to the penis is compromised by high blood pressure and hardened or narrowing arteries, the achievement of an erection can become physically challenging or impossible.
In women, reduced blood flow to the vagina may cause a decrease in sexual desire or arousal. It may also lead to vaginal dryness or the inability to achieve an orgasm. Such symptoms can also lead to social and relationship problems, which cause emotional distress and may worsen symptoms of hypertension.
Danger to Kidneys
Kidney failure and scarring occur when your kidneys don’t get enough blood to perform their filtering functions and, instead, accumulate massive waste. Patients with high blood pressure are also at risk of having an aneurysm in the arteries that lead to the kidneys.
Destruction to Eyes
Eyes are extremely delicate and will begin to feel the effects of hypertension quickly. The blood vessels that supply the eye can experience retinopathy, which leads to eye bleeding, blurred vision, and could eventually destroy vision completely. Patients may also experience nerve damage in the optic nerve (optic neuropathy) and choroidopathy, a condition in which fluid builds up under the retina because of a weakened, leaking blood vessel.
Why Don’t Patients Take Their Medication?
Under the threat of such serious symptoms, some patients with hypertension still struggle taking their blood pressure medication. There are several reasons physicians believe failure to follow a drug regimen is a continuing trend:
Lack of symptoms – While high blood pressure can cause serious conditions that have terrible symptoms, the condition by itself does not come with many, if any, symptoms.
Unpleasant side effects – High blood pressure medications affect the chemical balance in your body, which can lead to unpleasant side effects that could keep people from taking their blood pressure medication.
Complex drug regimens – As you age and need more medication, taking new drugs, such as blood pressure medication, on a regular schedule can become tough.
Cost of medication – Even with the help of Medicare, some patients are still unable to afford their medications, especially if those medications are new or highly specialized.
Forgetting – It’s not hard to forget to take medication. Even if you turn your drug regimen into a habit, there may be some days when you are unsure if you took your medication or not.
To combat these problems, the CDC is considering simplifying treatment instructions, making regimens easier to follow, and recommending new, clever ways of ensuring that patients are not missing any part of their blood pressure medication schedule. Director of CDC Tom Frieden reminds patients that “A simple action can avoid potentially deadly consequences: take your blood pressure medicine as prescribed,” in the hope that an increase in effort on the part of both the CDC and hypertension patients will make a difference in the coming years.