How High Blood Pressure Can Lead to Stroke
April 22, 2021
In our community, high blood pressure is consistently the most common risk factor among the stroke patients we treat. This is not unique to the Lancaster, PA area. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a leading cause of stroke worldwide. The single best way to prevent a stroke is to keep your blood pressure in a healthy range, which means lower than 120/80.
How Does High Blood Pressure Cause a Stroke?
High blood pressure indicates that your heart is pumping harder than it should. This constant stress weakens your body’s arteries and makes them more susceptible to bursting or being blocked by fatty plaque—the causes of both types of stroke:
- Hemorrhagic stroke—a stroke caused by a blood vessel in the brain bursting
- Ischemic stroke—a stroke caused by a blood clot blocking a vessel that supplies blood to the brain
When a person is having a stroke, brain cells die due to a lack of oxygen. This can cause serious disability or death.
Blood Pressure Numbers
Controlling your blood pressure reduces your chance of having a stroke by almost half. You can read more about blood pressure numbers in this blog post, but here is a quick reference guide:
Under the current guidelines:
- Normal blood pressure: Less than 120/80
- Elevated blood pressure: Systolic between 120-129 and diastolic less than 80
- Stage 1 hypertension: Systolic between 130-139 or diastolic between 80-89
How Can I Lower my Blood Pressure?
There are relatively easy ways you can maintain a healthy blood pressure.
- Reduce your salt intake. Avoid deli meats and canned foods, and be aware that most restaurant foods have high salt content.
- Exercise. Moderate exercise–simply walking briskly for 30 minutes most days–has been shown to lower blood pressure.
- If you are overweight, try to lose the extra pounds and maintain a healthy BMI. Limit alcohol intake.
- If you smoke, quit. Avoid secondhand smoke.
- Be aware that some medications (decongestants, steroids, oral contraceptives) can raise blood pressure.
- Monitor your blood pressure at home.
- Talk to your doctor about blood pressure medication to see if appropriate for you.
By making some healthy lifestyle changes, you can greatly reduce the number one risk factor for stroke, and a variety of other health conditions, too.
Ram Chavali, MD
Ram Chavali, MD, is medical director of endovascular stroke intervention at Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health. Dr. Chavali has extensive experience in interventional neuroradiology and acute stroke care.
Education: Medical School–Chicago Medical School at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Sciences; Residency–Baystate Medical Center; Fellowship–Brigham and Women’s Hospital of Harvard Medical School.