Our body is an integral system, and a disorder of one nature can cause both foreseeable and rather unpredictable complications. Our cardiovascular system is not an exception. An unattended issue, such as abnormal blood pressure, can lead to a devastating outcome and even create a life-threatening health condition. What connects hypertension, heart disease, and strokes? How to keep your cardiovascular health in check? Are there risk factors you should know about? We gathered every important bit of information in this material.
Hypertension is another name for elevated blood pressure (BP), an occurrence when the force created by blood in the vessels exceeds the normal values. Normal blood pressure reading is no more than 120/80 mm Hg.
How Heart Disease is Caused by Hypertension
Heart disease is a generalized term for a health issue that affects primarily the heart. It includes such afflictions as:
- arrhythmia (abnormal heartbeat);
- atherosclerosis (when blood vessels get thicker or harder due to plaque formations inside);
- cardiomyopathy (a health issue with muscles that the heart is built of);
- congenital heart defects;
- ischemic heart disease (when the arteries providing blood for the heart get too narrow); also known as coronary artery disease (CAD);
- cardiac infections.
When the patient has hypertension, more force is required to pump blood to supply all the tissues and organs of the body. This makes the heart beat faster, causing tachycardia, but also strains it, leading to a condition called heart failure, insufficient functioning. Hypertension also harms the walls of blood vessels, increasing the risk of plaques and blood clot formation. This narrows the vessel or can even block the blood flow, depriving the heart of blood and oxygen. Ischemization and subsequent death of the heart tissues due to this is called heart attack.
How a Stroke is Caused by Hypertension
The CDC states that a stroke is the main cause of death in the USA. Almost 800,000 people are diagnosed with a stroke every year.
Stroke is an occurrence that affects the brain, damaging its cells and tissues. They can manifest with the following symptoms:
- weakness or numbness that spreads to the face and limbs;
- the person struggles to speak or understand others;
- the person suddenly changes their behavior;
- the person looks confused and disoriented and their speech is slurred;
- vision gets doubled, or, to the contrary, blurred or blackened;
- the person cannot walk or maintain balance;
- nausea and vomiting;
- acute headache of unclear origin;
- facial droop.
There are two main types of strokes, and both have a connection with abnormally high BP.
Ischemic stroke is an occurrence when something blocks the blood supply to the brain, starving it of oxygen. The most common cause of such a blockage is a blood clot. It either forms in the brain (a thrombotic stroke) or in another part of the body (mainly the heart or blood vessels in the neck, chest, and arms; embolic stroke). Another possible cause is a plaque piece breaking off and blocking the blood flow.
We already know that high BP equals a high risk of blood clots and plaques. A reading of 180/120 mmHg and higher is considered a stroke level. People often want to know how high is blood pressure before a stroke, so that is a final line that calls for immediate medical attention.
However, every person is an individual and the possibility of developing a stroke depends on many other factors, such as rate of blood coagulation, general cardiovascular health, etc. The risk grows gradually with BP reading, it does not go from 0 to 11 in a second. So when people ask, can 160/110 BP cause a stroke, the answer is yes, especially, when the person is hypotonic, and this reading is extremely high for them.
Interestingly enough, low blood pressure can also cause a stroke. If a person’s BP is too low, the blood supply to the brain generally decreases, making it ischemic.
This stroke type occurs when a cerebral blood vessel breaks open or leaks. A blood collection outside the vessel is called a hematoma. It created swelling that damages the brain.
Because hypertension damages the walls of blood vessels, the risk of bleeding increases. When the hemorrhage occurs, elevated BP makes the hematoma larger and grow faster; it is also associated with faster neural deterioration and a worse prognosis.
Shared Risk Factors
Hypertension, CVDs (cardiovascular diseases), and strokes have common risk factors. You are under a higher threat if you:
- are a heavy alcohol drinker;
- have a sedentary lifestyle;
- eat unhealthy, consume too much junk food and processed foods;
- are under a chronic stress;
- have a high BMI (body-mass index);
- have a family history of CVDs;
- have cardiovascular issues in your anamnesis;
- have certain chronic ailments, such as diabetes.
How Untreated Hypertension Can Lead to a Chain Reaction of Health Problems
At the beginning of our article, we mentioned that the human body is an integral system where one disorder can cause an avalanche of health issues. This goes for cardiovascular health as well. For example, high BP and heart failure are prime contributors to kidney failure: excessive blood and insufficient heart function cause kidney overload and damage them over time. And if we are talking about brain injuries caused by a stroke, they result in long-term disabilities, from aphasia (speech loss) to paralysis.
How to Prevent Heart Disease
The Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation states that blood pressure abnormalities, strokes, and CVDs are 80% preventable through a wholesome lifestyle.
Healthy nutrition is a key point of providing your body with essential nutrients and improving your cardiovascular health. Here are some tips:
- Manage your sodium intake. Sodium promotes fluid accumulation which increases the load on your heart.
- Eat more fiber. High-fiber diet plans are known to lower cholesterol and BP levels.
- Unsaturated fats (e.g. in avocados, ses fish, olive oil, nuts, etc.) help manage blood cholesterol, heart rhythm, and BP.
- Adjust your diet for weight management. High BMI increases the load on your heart and, thus, the risk of CVDs.
- Red berries are your friends. High in antioxidants, they help inhibit tissue aging and protect them against oxidative stress.
Being physically active gives you more energy, helps to battle stress, and makes your heart stronger.
Quit bad habits
Limit your alcohol consumption and quit smoking to eliminate risk factors.
Stress pushes you to an unhealthy way of living. Chronically high cortisol (stress hormone) levels are associated with higher cholesterol and hypertension. Yoga, sports, therapy, good sleep, hobbies, and other anti-stress activity will help you stay healthy, positive, and productive.
If you have an ongoing health issue, either related or unrelated to your cardiovascular health, consult your doctor for a treatment plan. Pharmaceutical support, from antidepressants for your mental health to antihypertensive drugs for your BP, will stabilize your condition.
Regular health screenings and check-ups
Do not neglect regular visits to your healthcare provider. Preventive practices are an important part of staying healthy. If diagnosed with a BP disorder, you can keep it in check by home measurement. Buying a device called a tonometer will allow you to control your blood pressure and address any abnormalities quickly and efficiently.
There is a close connection between hypertension, heart disease, and strokes. They share risk factors, and hypertension itself is a risk factor for the latter. A healthy lifestyle, preventive care, and following your doctor’s recommendations will help you decrease the chance of having a stroke and cardiovascular disease.
Can hypertension cause strokes?
Yes, it is considered a risk factor.
How does high blood pressure cause a heart attack or a stroke?
The strain on the heart and the risk of blood clots and arterial plaque, which cause strokes and heart attacks, are both increased by hypertension.
What level of high blood pressure can cause a stroke?
BP over 180/120 is called a stroke level but chronically elevated BP of any level may contribute to a stroke.