High Blood Pressure and Stroke: How Does One Effect the Other?
High blood pressure (hypertension) is a major risk factor for both heart attacks and strokes. Over time, those with hypertension are at risk of developing cholesterol buildup of their arteries. If this occurs in the heart, angina or heart attacks can result. In the neck or head, a stroke is possible. This is the most common type of stroke, known as an ischemic stroke. It is due to decreased blood flow through arteries to the brain. An artery can be blocked by cholesterol buildup (plaque) or sudden blockage from blood clotting inside the vessel (thrombosis). Alternatively, it can be due to a blood clot, thrombus, breaking of and traveling into smaller vessels to block their blood flow. This latter process is known as embolization.
Another type of stroke is due to bleeding, known as a hemorrhagic stroke. In this scenario, blood vessels in the brain rupture leading to leakage of blood into the brain. Although the mechanism is different, hypertension increases the risk of such a stroke as well. Those with high blood pressure are more likely to rupture their blood vessels. In some people, the brain’s blood vessels are thin and more likely to expand, aneurysm and rupture. Think of blowing into a balloon. The thinner the balloon the more likely it will expand and eventually burst. The air you blow has the same effect as blood pressure.
Call 911 if you suspect you are having a stroke. Every minute is critical.
Any sudden change in vision, speech, swallowing, strength, or sensation, especially if it’s more prominent on one side of your body needs to be evaluated. Additionally, dizziness, imbalance, lightheadedness, and passing out warrant further evaluation.
Will lowering my blood pressure prevent me from having a stroke?
No, but it will significantly decrease your risk. If your blood pressure is above 120/80 you should be evaluated for lifestyle modification such as decreasing sodium intake and weight loss. If the blood pressure is above 140/90 you may require medications.
Make sure your blood pressure is checked on each visit to you primary doctors office.
What else can I do to prevent strokes?
The same risk factors which cause heart attacks cause strokes. Besides lowering your blood pressure, you should lower you cholesterol, avoid obesity, be screened for diabetes, and stop smoking. In some cases medications such as aspirin are used to prevent blood cells called platelets from sticking together and forming a clot (thrombus).
Dr. Glenn Gandelman is board certified in internal medicine, cardiology, echocardiography, and nuclear medicine. He specializes in prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cardiovascular disease. He wrote for HealthCentral as a health professional for Heart Disease and High Blood Pressure.