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Stroke Smart Magazine

Spring 2010

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High Benefits of Low Pressure
Maintain Your Levels to Avoid a Second Stroke

By Pam Peters

Of the 795,000 Americans who have a stroke each year, 5 percent to 14 percent will have a second stroke within one year. Within five years, stroke will recur in about 24 percent of women and 42 percent of men.

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is the number one preventable risk factor for stroke. However, several people don’t know the symptoms of high blood pressure and often this silent killer shows no symptoms at all. As many as 73 million Americans have high blood pressure, yet almost one third are not aware they have it. High blood pressure is defined as a blood pressure reading of 140/90 or higher. As a stroke survivor, it is important to control your blood pressure to lower your risk of another stroke.

High blood pressure leads to stroke because it places undue stress on blood vessel walls, which can cause them to thicken and deteriorate. Cholesterol or other fat-like substances can then break away from these walls and block a brain artery. In other cases, increased stress can weaken blood vessel walls, leading to vessel breakage and a brain hemorrhage. People who have high blood pressure are more than 50 percent more likely to have a stroke in their lifetime compared to those who have a blood pressure of 120/80 or lower.

It is not always possible to determine what causes high blood pressure, but the following are some common factors that might put you at higher risk:

  • Family history.
  • Age – incidence rises in men after 35 and in women after 45 years of age.
  • Gender – men are more likely to have it.
  • Race – 41 percent of African Americans have high blood pressure, compared to 28 percent of Caucasians. Hispanic Americans have a slightly higher risk for high blood pressure than Caucasians.
  • Other – excess weight, high alcohol consumption, diabetes, lack of exercise and a diet high in salt.

Adults should have their blood pressure checked regularly to lower risk. Your doctor will advise you on how often you should be checked depending on your risk assessment, whether you are taking any medications and your general health. Blood pressure checks only take a few minutes and are painless. In fact, many pharmacies offer the use of blood pressure machines or your doctor might recommend you purchase a blood pressure cuff for home use.

Following are some guidelines for controlling high blood pressure:

  • Speak to your doctor about what you can do to attain and maintain a blood pressure below 140/90. He or she might prescribe medication and you might have to try several different drugs before you find the right one.
  • Eat a diet abundant in fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products. Some studies show that increasing potassium intake might also help lower blood pressure.
  • Exercise regularly at an intensity that is appropriate to your age and fitness level.

As with any chronic medical condition, living with high blood pressure can take a toll on your mental health. Be sure to surround yourself with supportive people who can help you stay on track to maintain a healthy blood pressure. And remember, if you have already had a stroke, yet do not have high blood pressure, lowering your blood pressure even more might reduce the risk of a recurrent stroke.

What do those blood pressure numbers mean?

For adults, high blood pressure is defined as a measurement of 140/90 or higher. Optimal blood pressure is 120/80 or lower. The top number, systolic blood pressure, is a measure of the force your blood exerts on blood vessel walls as your heart pumps. The second number, diastolic blood pressure, is a measure of the force your blood exerts on blood vessel walls when the heart is at rest between beats. The following table illustrates blood pressure categories in adults.






 Less than 120


 Less than 80





High blood pressure Stage 1




High blood pressure Stage 2

160 or higher


100 or higher

All levels above 120/80 increase the risk of even higher blood pressure. So if you’re in the prehypertension zone and you don’t treat it, you’re more likely to end up with Stage 1 or Stage 2 high blood pressure. If your systolic blood pressure is consistently above 120 or if your diastolic blood pressure is consistently over 80, talk to your doctor.

Pam Peters is Principal Writer and Founder of Words Abound.


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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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