Your heart and kidneys work together, which is why your blood pressure can affect both.
High blood pressure doesn’t just increase your risk of heart attack, heart failure and stroke. The condition can also damage your kidneys, limiting their ability to filter waste and toxins, as well as to balance the amount of fluids, hormones, sodium and other minerals in your blood.
How High Blood Pressure Can Damage Your Kidneys
Your heart, the key organ of the circulatory system, constantly pumps blood through your blood vessels. Good blood flow is essential for normal kidney function and even minor blood flow problems can affect kidney function and increase your risk of serious health problems.
Although a certain amount of force is needed to push blood through the blood vessels, the pressure inside the vessels sometimes becomes too high. High blood pressure can damage the blood vessels that lead to the kidneys, causing them to stiffen or narrow. As a result, less blood reaches your kidneys, making it difficult for the organs to function properly. Tiny blood vessels inside the kidneys that filter blood may also be damaged.
If your kidneys can’t balance fluids or remove waste and toxins efficiently, you may experience these symptoms:
- Itchy, dry skin
- Puffy eyes
- Sleep difficulties
- Leg and ankle swelling
- Chest pain due to inflammation of the sac around the heart
Health issues can also occur if your mineral levels are too high or too low. Irregular heartbeats may be a problem if your potassium level rises, while calcium depletion can lead to broken bones.
Kidney damage may make it even harder to regulate your blood pressure. Blood pressure tends to increase when fluids build up and your kidneys struggle to regulate hormones that control pressure. If the damage is severe, your kidneys may eventually begin to fail. Dialysis, a treatment that removes waste and extra fluids from your blood, or a kidney transplant may then be needed to save your life.
6 Ways to Lower Your Blood Pressure
Lowering your blood pressure will help you avoid kidney damage and may slow the progression of kidney disease if you already have it.
These steps can help protect your kidneys:
- Improve your diet: Cut out sugary snacks, junk food, high-sodium foods and foods that contain saturated fats. Make sure your diet includes a healthy mix of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products and fish, poultry and lean meats.
- Lose weight: Excess weight stresses your heart and may raise your blood pressure. Losing even a few pounds may help lower your pressure.
- Exercise more: Exercise is an excellent, inexpensive way to keep your blood pressure under control. The American Heart Association® recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity each week or 75 minutes of vigorous activity for adults, in addition to two muscle-strengthening sessions per week.
- Relax: Stress also plays a role in high blood pressure. Any activity that reduces stress, whether it’s exercise, yoga or reading a good book, will help you protect your heart and kidneys.
- Stop smoking: Smoking may narrow your blood vessels, increasing your blood pressure. If you’ve been thinking about giving up smoking, now’s the perfect time to stop.
- See your doctor: High blood pressure doesn’t usually cause symptoms at first, despite the damage it does to your blood vessels. Blood pressure screenings at your doctor’s office can detect even slight changes in your blood pressure. Making lifestyle changes may help lower elevated blood pressure, and if that’s not enough, your doctor may prescribe blood pressure medication.
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Date Last Reviewed: January 11, 2021
Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor
Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD