How Are Hypertension, Heart Disease, and Stroke Related? – Healthline

Although high blood pressure (hypertension) doesn’t usually have any noticeable symptoms, it can cause serious damage to your circulatory system. Without treatment, it can increase your risk of some serious complications, including cardiovascular disease, stroke, and other health conditions.
Some people can keep their blood pressure under control with healthy lifestyle choices. But sometimes medication is also needed to help keep blood pressure levels in check.
Read on to learn more about what high blood pressure is and how it can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.
It’s natural for your blood pressure to rise and fall throughout the day. For example, your blood pressure typically increases with physical activity and decreases when you sleep.
According to 2017 recommendations from the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association, high blood pressure is diagnosed when your blood pressure readings are consistently above 130/80 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg).
The following blood pressure chart provides a breakdown of normal, elevated, and high levels:
Many factors can raise your risk of high blood pressure. Some of these risk factors, such as your age, sex, and family history, are unavoidable.
Other risk factors are linked to lifestyle, such as alcohol or tobacco use, inactivity, or too much dietary sodium.
Some health conditions can also increase your risk of high blood pressure, such as:
High blood pressure makes it harder for your cardiovascular system to circulate blood throughout your body.
Over time, the excess force from high blood pressure causes pressure and damage to the walls of the blood vessels and makes them “sticky.” Cholesterol, fat, and other substances in the bloodstream can stick and harden to form plaque. The vessels themselves also stiffen.
This process is called atherosclerosis. It causes the arteries to narrow. When this happens, the force of the blood in your arteries increases and your heart has to work harder to circulate blood effectively throughout your body.
Atherosclerosis also increases the risk that a blood clot will form and block the flow of blood to the heart. When this happens, the heart muscle cannot get the oxygen it needs to keep pumping.
A heart attack, or myocardial infarction, occurs when the heart is damaged as a result of a blockage in the arteries.
Signs and symptoms of a heart attack include:
If you think you’re having a heart attack, call 911 or local emergency medical services immediately. The sooner you can get medical treatment, the more likely you are to have a successful recovery.
As described above, hypertension damages and weakens your blood vessels. This includes blood vessels that deliver oxygen to parts of your brain.
During a hemorrhagic stroke, a weak blood vessel ruptures. As a result, part of the brain is deprived of oxygen. If it goes without oxygen for too long, the affected part of the brain can die.
High blood pressure also increases the risk that a blood clot will develop in the brain and block the flow of blood. When the blood vessels are clogged with plaque, the risk of this happening is even higher.
This is called an ischemic stroke. As with a hemorrhagic stroke, if the affected part of the brain doesn’t get the oxygen it needs, it could die.
Both types of strokes can affect key functions, such as your ability to speak, move, and remember.
Stroke symptoms come on suddenly. They often include:
As with a heart attack, it’s crucial to act quickly. Call 911 or local emergency services immediately if you or someone you know experiences any symptoms of a stroke.
Heart disease and stroke are just a couple of the health risks associated with hypertension. Without treatment, hypertension can cause serious damage to your arteries, heart, brain, kidneys, and eyes.
Some complications associated with hypertension include:
Most of these are the result of long-term damage to the blood vessels caused by high blood pressure.
If you’ve been diagnosed with elevated or high blood pressure, your doctor will help you understand the steps you need to take to lower your blood pressure.
This might include monitoring your blood pressure at home, changing your day-to-day habits, and taking medication.
You can get started right away with the following lifestyle changes:
If lifestyle changes aren’t enough to lower your blood pressure, your doctor may prescribe medication to help treat your hypertension. There are many different types of medications for high blood pressure. Each one works in a different way.
Finding the right medication may take time and patience. It’s important to work closely with your doctor to find what works best for you. Your treatment plan may include one or more of the following medications:
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a common condition that can lead to serious complications. Untreated hypertension is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke, along with a number of other conditions.
Over time, high blood pressure can damage your blood vessels and put excess strain on your heart.
You can target high blood pressure by adopting healthy habits, such as eating a balanced diet, getting regular exercise, and avoiding sources of stress. To learn more about how you can prevent or manage high blood pressure, talk with your doctor about what will work best for you.
Last medically reviewed on February 18, 2022
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