How Does High Blood Pressure Affect My Risk Of Developing An Abnormal Heart Rhythm?

Dr. Friedman answers the question: 'High Blood Pressure And Rhythm Problems?'

ByABC News
November 24, 2008, 9:48 AM

— -- Question: How does high blood pressure affect my risk of developing an abnormal heart rhythm?

Answer :High blood pressure, also called hypertension, forces the heart to work harder in order to pump blood around our bodies. Over time -- months and years -- that extra work can cause the muscle of the main pump, the left ventricle, to thicken. This condition is called left ventricular hypertrophy. When the pump becomes thickened, blood to the pump itself doesn't flow as easily. This, over time, can increase the risk of arrhythmias. High blood pressure can also cause kidney failure and congestive heart failure. In people who have developed left ventricular hypertrophy, or this thickened heart pump, the risk of death from dangerous arrhythmias is increased.

Additionally, when the bottom pump, or main pump, is thickened, then the top chambers or atria also have to work harder. They may become stretched, and that can lead to another rhythm problem called atrial fibrillation, in which the top chambers of the heart quiver. High blood pressure and atrial fibrillation also increase the risk of stroke.

There's good news in all of this. The good news is that, if you identify your high blood pressure and get it treated, the heart muscle thickening may reverse, and your risk of heart attack, heart failure, stroke and arrhythmia may be lowered. It's a good idea, if you're blood pressure's normal -- or 120 over 80 or less -- to have your blood pressure took about every two years to screen for high blood pressure. If you have borderline high blood pressure -- so that it's above 120 over 80 but below 140 over 90 -- then getting it checked every two years is a good idea. If your blood pressure is high, then your doctor may recommend diet, exercise or medications to keep it controlled.