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Stroke Smart Magazine

May/June 2009

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High Blood Pressure & Stroke
Nearly One-Third of Those Afflicted Don’t Know They Have It

The truth is, what you don’t know can hurt you. Doctors have long called high blood pressure, or hypertension, “the silent killer” because often there are no symptoms. If left untreated, high blood pressure can lead to life-threatening medical problems such as stroke, heart attack or kidney failure. As many as 50 million Americans age 6 and older have high blood pressure. Of the one in every four adults with high blood pressure, 31.6 percent are not aware they have it.

High blood pressure is one of the most common causes of stroke because it puts stress on blood vessel walls, causing them to thicken and erode. This can lead to a stroke.

When blood vessel walls thicken with increased blood pressure, cholesterol or other fat-like sub­stances might break off of artery walls and block a brain artery. Also, the added stress can weaken blood vessel walls, leading to a vessel breakage and a brain hemorrhage.

Causes of High Blood Pressure

In most cases, it’s impossible to pinpoint the cause of high blood pressure. There are, however, a number of factors that have been linked to high blood pres­sure including:

  • A family history of high blood pressure.
  • Age – The incidence of high blood pressure rises in men after age 35 and in women after age 45.
  • Gender–Men are more likely to have high blood pressure than women.
  • Race–About 33 percent of African-Americans have high blood pressure, compared to 25 percent of Caucasians.

Other factors include excess weight, excessive alcohol con­sumption, diabetes, lack of exer­cise and a high-salt diet.


For most people, high blood pressure can be controlled through diet, exercise, medica­tion or a combination of all three. Treatments might include:

  • A diet low in salt and rich in vegetables, fruits and low-fat dairy.
  • Regular exercise approved by a health care provid­er might not only aid in weight loss, but also help lower blood pressure.
  • Medications prescribed by a health care provider are available to treat high blood pressure. For stroke survivors, lowering blood pressure reduces the risk of recurrent stroke.


Understanding the Numbers

A blood pressure reading is expressed with two numbers, for example, 120/80. The first number is systolic blood pressure and measures the force the blood exerts on blood vessel walls as your heart pumps. The second number is diastolic blood pressure and measures the force the blood exerts on blood vessel walls when your heart is at rest between beats.

Blood Pressure Basics


  Systolic (top number)


  Diastolic (bottom number)


  Less than 120


  Less than 80





  High -Stage 1




  High -Stage 2

  160 or higher


  100 or higher

  Ranges apply to most adults who don’t have short-term serious illnesses.




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National Stroke Association’s mission is to reduce the incidence and impact of stroke by developing compelling education and programs focused on prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and support for all impacted by stroke.

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