Living Well

The Link Between High Blood Pressure and Stroke

Toni Rougeou
The Link Between High Blood Pressure and Stroke

Most of the time, high blood pressure (also called hypertension) has no obvious symptoms to indicate that something is wrong. But left unchecked, high blood pressure can increase your chances of having a stroke.

The condition is especially prevalent in African Americans. After John Singleton recent fatal stroke,the director's family urged African Americans get their blood pressure checked.

The prevalence of high blood pressure in African Americans in the United States is among the highest in the world, according to the American Heart Association. More than 40 percent of non-hispanic African-American men and women have high blood pressure, which develops earlier in life and is usually more severe.

Theories of why so many African Americans have high blood pressure include higher rates of diabetes and obesity. Researchers found that there may be a gene that makes African-Americans more salt sensitive, raising blood pressure.

Each day that your blood pressure is too high, your chances of having a stroke are increased. Normal blood pressure is considered to be less than 120 over less than 80 millimeters of mercury (mmHg) or 120/80 mmHg. A stroke is a loss of brain function caused by a lack of blood to the brain. Stroke can result from the damage that ongoing high blood pressure causes in your vessels. If the affected vessel stops supplying blood to the brain, a stroke results.

A few facts to be aware of:

  • Many people with high blood pressure don't even know they have it. Often, the signs and symptoms are misunderstood.
  • High blood pressure develops slowly over time and can be related to many causes.
  • High blood pressure cannot be cured, but it can be managed effectively through lifestyle changes and, when needed, medication.

Know the symptoms of stroke:

During a stroke, minutes matter. Call 911 if you have any of the symptoms below:

  • Sudden weakness or numbness on one side of the face or body, including a leg or an arm
  • Sudden trouble seeing with one or both eyes
  • Sudden double vision
  • Sudden trouble talking, such as slurred speech
  • Sudden severe headache
  • Sudden problems using or understanding words
  • Sudden dizziness or loss of balance
  • Seizures for the first time
  • Any of these symptoms that occur and then resolve

During a stroke, blood supply to the brain is cut off. But with prompt medical help, a better recovery is more likely. Don’t wait.

To reduce your risk of stroke, have your blood pressure checked and keep it in check.

Tips for reducing hypertension:

Choose heart-healthy foods

  • Select low-salt, low-fat foods. Limit sodium intake to 2,400 mg per day or the amount suggested by your healthcare provider.

  • Limit canned, dried, cured, packaged, and fast foods. These can contain a lot of salt.

  • Eat 8 to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables every day.

  • Choose lean meats, fish, or chicken.

  • Eat whole-grain pasta, brown rice, and beans.

  • Eat 2 to 3 servings of low-fat or fat-free dairy products.

  • Ask your doctor about the DASH eating plan. This plan helps reduce blood pressure.

  • When you go to a restaurant, ask that your meal be prepared with no added salt.

Maintain a healthy weight

  • Ask your healthcare provider how many calories to eat a day. Then stick to that number.

  • Ask your healthcare provider what weight range is healthiest for you. If you are overweight, a weight loss of only 3% to 5% of your body weight can help lower blood pressure. Generally, a good weight loss goal is to lose 10% of your body weight in a year.

  • Limit snacks and sweets.

  • Get regular exercise.

Get up and get active

  • Choose activities you enjoy. Find ones you can do with friends or family. This includes bicycling, dancing, walking, and jogging.

  • Park farther away from building entrances.

  • Use stairs instead of the elevator.

  • When you can, walk or bike instead of driving.

  • Rake leaves, garden, or do household repairs.

  • Be active at a moderate to vigorous level of physical activity for at least 40 minutes for a minimum of 3 to 4 days a week. 

Manage stress

  • Make time to relax and enjoy life. Find time to laugh.

  • Communicate your concerns with your loved ones and your healthcare provider.

  • Visit with family and friends, and keep up with hobbies.

Limit alcohol and quit smoking

  • Men should have no more than 2 drinks per day.

  • Women should have no more than 1 drink per day.

  • Talk with your healthcare provider about quitting smoking. Smoking significantly increases your risk for heart disease and stroke. Ask your healthcare provider about community smoking cessation programs and other options.

Medicines

If lifestyle changes aren’t enough, your healthcare provider may prescribe high blood pressure medicine. Take all medicines as prescribed. If you have any questions about your medicines, ask your healthcare provider before stopping or changing them.

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