Although often asymptomatic, hypertension -- or blood pressure that is higher than normal -- causes both short- and long-term effects. One of those effects, especially in cases of chronic hypertension, is heart failure. And when your heart fails to beat effectively, the result is decreased cardiac output, an inability of your heart to pump blood throughout your body.
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Hypertension -- What It Is
Blood pressure is a measurement of the resistance in your arterial walls when your heart pumps blood against them. Think of your arteries as a garden hose and your heart as a spigot. If you attach a garden hose with a wide lumen -- the space inside the hose -- to a spigot, you will likely observe a flow of water that is not under a tremendous amount of pressure. Conversely, if you attach a hose with a narrower lumen to the same spigot, you will observe a faster flow of water under greater pressure. The walls of that second hose are under more pressure than the walls of the first. This is also true of your arteries if you have hypertension.
Hypertension and Heart Failure
Heart failure occurs when your heart is no longer able to pump blood efficiently and effectively to the vital organs of your body. It is the cumulative result of all of the negative things that can affect your heart over its lifetime, including heart disease, hypertension and diabetes. Hypertension causes your heart's workload to be much greater, and as is the case with most muscles in your body, this can cause enlargement of the muscle. An enlarged heart, however, is a detriment, as it can no longer pump blood effectively. A reduction in the amount of blood your heart pumps results in decreased cardiac output.
Symptoms of Heart Failure and Decreased Cardiac Output
Symptoms of heart failure and decreased cardiac output include fatigue, tiring easily and shortness of breath that may affect your sleep and other aspects of your quality of life. Tachycardia, or a fast heart rate -- even when at rest -- is an arrhythmia that often occurs as a result of heart failure. You may feel lightheaded, weak and dizzy. You may also notice swelling of your extremities, particularly of your ankles and feet. Swelling of the abdomen is also a symptom of the decreased cardiac output associated with heart failure.
The goal of treatment for hypertension is to lower your blood pressure to a more normal level, or at least a level that is safe for you. Blood pressure for a healthy individual is 140/90 mm Hg or lower. However, in light of your heart failure and decreased cardiac output, your doctor will likely want your blood pressure to be 120/80 mm Hg or lower. Several lifestyle and medication interventions may help you achieve this goal. For example, your doctor may ask you to lower your sodium intake to 2,000 mg per day or less. Salt can cause fluid retention, which can raise your blood pressure. It is also important to maintain a healthy weight as recommended by your doctor. Weigh yourself on a daily basis and report a gain of more than 2 pounds in a day or 4 pounds in a week, to your doctor. If you smoke, stop, and if you drink alcohol, moderate your consumption based on your doctor's recommendations. Daily exercise may increase your overall strength and ability to withstand the side effects of your illness. Be compliant with any medications your doctor prescribes, as there are medications available to treat most aspects of heart failure, including high blood pressure, heart arrhythmias and water retention.