How Hypertension Leads to Stroke?
High blood pressure typically develops over several years. But, as it is associated with no or few symptoms, many people have it for years without even knowing it.
However, just because it is symptomless does not mean it is harmless. Conversely, unattended high blood pressure may damage your blood vessels, especially those in the kidneys, eyes, and brain.
It also narrows the blood vessels and increases the risk of clot formation. If a clot forms in blood vessels supplying the brain, it may hamper blood flow to the brain, resulting in a stroke. Regular blood pressure readings can help your doctor to monitor any changes and manage hypertension to prevent the risk of stroke.
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A stroke is a condition where the blood supply to a part of the brain is blocked. Brain cells, or neurons, receive lesser oxygen and begin to die.
The effects and symptoms of stroke depend on the part of the brain affected by it and the severity of the damage. Understanding the signs and symptoms of stroke is essential, as quick treatment lowers the risk of complications, such as brain injury and death.
- Weakness or numbness in the face, arm, and leg, especially on one side of the body
- Vision problems such as blackened, double, or blurred vision, and difficulty in seeing through one or both the eyes
- Lack of coordination and balance
- Severe headache of an unknown cause
- Slurred speech
- Trouble in understanding or speaking
- Vomiting or nausea
- Loss of consciousness
- Drooping on one side of the face
While anyone can get a stroke, having certain risk factors such as hypertension increases your risk of getting a stroke. The normal blood pressure range is 120/80 mm Hg. In hypertension, blood flows with a higher pressure through blood vessels.
Long-term or unattended hypertension narrows blood vessels and damages them. This gradually increases the risk of clot formation. When a clot is formed in blood vessels of the brain, it may result in a stroke.
There are two primary types of stroke, and here is how hypertension is a risk factor for both of them:
- Ischemic stroke: When blood clots in blood vessels supplying the brain, it may result in ischemic stroke. With inadequate blood supply, the brain cells cannot get enough nutrients and oxygen, and thus they stop working. This ultimately hampers the body’s vital functions. High blood pressure is responsible for 40% – 50% of ischemic strokes
- Hemorrhagic stroke: In certain cases, high blood pressure may cause blood vessels to burst. If this happens in the brain, it is known as a hemorrhagic stroke. In such cases, blood may leak into the skull and damage the brain tissue. The risk of hemorrhagic stroke is ten times higher in individuals with hypertension than the general population.
Read more about Hypertension and heart failure here.
Along with hypertension, certain other factors may also increase the risk of stroke.
High Cholesterol Levels
Too much cholesterol in your blood may cause a buildup of fats (plaque) in blood vessels, which can cause blood clots. To prevent this, have a heart-healthy diet with lots of vegetables and fruits. Consuming food low in salt and exercising also helps to prevent plaque formation.
You can also monitor your cholesterol levels by getting them checked and be aware of your risk for stroke.
Cigarette contains toxic chemicals such as carbon monoxide that may increase blood pressure and damage your heart. Further, smoking can also trigger the buildup of plaque in blood vessels, reducing blood flow to the brain. Smoking is also seen to increase the risk of clot formation.
Individuals with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes are prone to stroke. High blood sugar damages blood vessels and increases the risk of stroke.
While there is no cure for diabetes, you can maintain your blood sugar levels with proper diet and medication.
Having the following underlying disorders can increase the risk of stroke:
- Carotid artery disease: Narrowing of blood vessels of the neck due to plaque formation.
- Peripheral artery disease: Narrowing of arteries (blood vessels) due to plaque formation.
- Heart Disorders: Certain heart disorders, such as heart valves disease, coronary heart disease, and congenital heart disorders, may cause clot formation.
- Atrial fibrillation: It is a condition characterized by irregular heartbeats, which may hamper blood flow and increase the risk of blood clots.
- Sickle cell disease: Here, a type of red blood cell sticks to the blood vessel’s walls and blocks the flow of blood to the brain.
Other factors include:
- Age above 55 years of age
- Family history of stroke or heart disorders
- Low birth weight
- Being overweight
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Excessive consumption of alcohol
- Stress & Anxiety has emerged as the most important factor for cardiovascular diseases including, hypertension and asthma
- Recreational drug use such as amphetamines, cocaine, and LSD
- Use of postmenopausal hormone therapy
Read more about asthma and anxiety here.
Effects of Hypertension
In addition to a stroke, damaged blood vessels in the brain, due to hypertension, can have the following effects on the brain:
- Transient ischemic attack (TIA): It is also known as a ministroke. TIA is a temporary, brief disturbance of blood supply to the brain. It is an indication that you are at risk of a full-blown stroke.
- Mild cognitive impairment: It is a transition stage between the changes in memory and understanding and more-serious disorders caused by dementia.
- Dementia: Blocked or narrowed blood vessels may limit blood flow to the brain, leading to vascular dementia.
If you have hypertension, lowering your blood pressure levels reduces the risk of stroke by half. You can consult your doctor to understand if you need medications to manage high blood pressure.
Besides, Body and health Canada recommends the following measures to prevent stroke:
- Eat a healthy diet: Consume more fibre, vegetables, fruits, legumes, and pulses. Avoid or limit the intake of saturated fats (mainly from poultry and meat) and trans fats (found in processed food items).
- Maintain a healthy weight: Higher-than-normal body weight increases the risk of hypertension-related complications, including stroke. You can talk to your doctor about exercise and nutrition program that will help you lose weight.
- Limit alcohol intake: Limit the alcohol intake to no more than one drink for women and no more than two drinks for men.
- Quit Smoking: Between 5 and 15 years after quitting smoking, yoof stroke risk will be similar to someone who has never smoked.
- Be active: Try to have at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise (running, swimming, and walking) in a day or 150 minutes a week. If you are currently not doing any exercise, consult your doctor before starting one.
- Lower your stress levels: Try and find out what causes stress and ways to cope with it. For instance, if you are overloaded with work, try and delegate some work to others. You can also try meditation, yoga, or deep breathing to lower the physical effects of stress.
Hypertension is a silent disorder with few or no symptoms. So, many people suffering from it may be unaware of the condition. However, this does not mean that hypertension is harmless. High blood pressure for a longer duration can damage your organs and blood vessels. It narrows the arteries and increases the risk of clot formation. When this happens in blood vessels supplying your brain, it may damage your brain cells and result in a stroke. If you have hypertension, managing blood pressure, being active, and consuming a healthy diet lowers the risk of stroke You can talk to your doctor and know your risk for stroke and ways to manage it.