Heart disease and high blood pressure often go together. If you have both these conditions, it is very important to control your blood pressure because if untreated, high blood pressure can lead to a worsening of your heart disease or eventually a stroke.
Understanding how high blood pressure damages your heart can better motivate you to control it. Longstanding high blood pressure results in what is called hypertensive cardiovascular disease, a condition in which your heart muscle thickens and the heart eventually weakens. While most people are screened for high blood pressure, this disease is still quite common.
High blood pressure also contributes to atherosclerosis, the build-up of fat-containing deposits within your arteries, which often narrow them, resulting in coronary artery disease. To envision how this happens, think of your circulatory system as a river. At some places, where the river is narrow, pressure can build up and create turbulence, which can erode the banks of the river.
The same thing can occur in your body. If your coronary arteries have been narrowed by heart disease, blood pressure can build-up. This high pressure can damage the walls of your arteries. As your body attempts to repair the damage, further narrowing can result. As if this was not bad enough, high blood pressure increases the workload on your heart, causing a greater demand for oxygen. So, if you have narrowed coronary arteries, or a heart damaged by a heart attack, high blood pressure can be very dangerous indeed.
If you have borderline high blood pressure, your doctor may advise you to control it by losing weight, exercising, quitting smoking, and on cutting down on salt if you are 'salt sensitive'. If you have severe hypertension, these steps, plus medication, will be prescribed. Some types of medication are useful in both the control of coronary artery disease and high blood pressure. Reducing stress can also be beneficial.
Some people who have high blood pressure are sensitive to salt, but others are not. For some, sodium (salt) causes fluid retention, which puts an added burden on the heart. Try eliminating salt; if it turns out you are not salt sensitive, you do not need to avoid it.
You should also watch your alcohol intake: Heavy drinking can make your blood pressure rise. If you experience adverse effects from high blood pressure medications, do not discontinue them; discuss it with your doctor. A change in medication or schedule may solve the problem. Do not be discouraged if you must continue medication indefinitely. Remember the treatment is far less than what is required to treat the deadly complications of untreated high blood pressure.
Regular aerobic exercise, even brisk walking, can pay big dividends. Whether or not you develop high blood pressure may be impossible for you to control. However, what you can control is your blood pressure level. Keeping it under control minimizes the chance that it will damage your heart.
What you can do, is to learn to take your blood pressure at home with reliable equipment. Keep regular records of your blood pressure. Your doctor can use this information in determining your correct medication.
What does your blood pressure reading mean?
(upper number)(mm Hg)
(lower number)(mm Hg)
Normal blood pressure
High Blood pressure
Stage 1 (mild)
Stage 2 (moderate)
Stage 3 (severe)
Stage 4 (very severe)
210 or higher
120 or higher
Stroke is a sudden severe illness that attacks the brain. There are two basic types.
Ischemic strokes, which account for about 80 percent of the total strokes, happen when blood flow to a part of the brain is cut off, causing brain cells to die due to lack of oxygen. This frequently occurs due to hardening and blockages in your carotid arteries, which feed blood from your neck to your head. Ischemic strokes can be caused by atrial fibrillation, an irregular heartbeat that leads to blood clots that may travel through your body and lodge in the brain arteries.
Hemorrhagic strokes account for the remaining 20 percent. These strokes are caused by bleeding from either a blood vessel on the surface of the brain or an artery in the brain itself. These strokes can be more deadly than ischemic strokes, with a mortality rate of close to 50 percent.
Men are 19 percent more likely to have strokes than women. Family history of stroke can play a role, though just how much remains unclear. Risk of stroke goes up as you age. The incidence of stroke more than doubles each decade for a man once he reaches age 55.
Of course, you have no say over gender, genetics or age. But there are a lot of risks you can definitely control. High blood pressure or hypertension is the single most important risk factor for stroke. High blood pressure causes stroke by speeding up atherosclerosis and damaging smaller blood vessels. It can cause tiny blood vessels in your brain to blow out like an over inflated tyre.
Smoking also puts you at increased risk for stroke by speeding up clogging in the carotid arteries. In fact, smoking and high blood pressure are stronger indicators than even blood cholesterol levels of atherosclerosis of your carotid arteries. Men with diabetes are also at greater risk of stroke. And risk factors for heart disease are high cholesterol, obesity, inactivity which can increase atherosclerosis and raise the likelihood of stroke.
Despite hundreds of studies, strokes remain shrouded in mystery. They seem to strike without warning. Sometimes it is hard to tell when you are in danger. But early prevention can be the key to improving your chances of avoiding stroke. The process leading to a stroke begins in your forties, even earlier, so now is the time to intervene.