Hypertension and Stroke

Strokes are the third leading cause of death in the United States, and the number one leading cause of disability. The amount of money spent in rehabilitation of stroke victims each year is astounding. What is good about this is that medicine has been able to lessen the impact of some strokes because the family knew the signs and symptoms and got immediate medical treatment. What is sad is that many strokes could be prevented in the first place by controlling risk factors such as obesity, lack of exercise, excessive alcohol intake and a high fat/high sodium (salt) diet.

Controlling diseases such as diabetes and hypertension are also important. People with uncontrolled diabetes are at an increased risk for developing hypertension, and those with uncontrolled hypertension are 4 to 6 times more likely to have a stroke. Hypertension leads to the development of atherosclerosis which is a disease of the blood vessels. Atherosclerosis causes the blood vessels to form plaque on the inside which causes both hardening and weakening. These weakened blood vessels filled with plaque are very often the cause of the stroke.

Strokes are classified in two ways. The first is called an ischemic stroke. This is when a clot forms and blocks the inside of a blood vessel in the brain. This causes the surrounding areas of brain tissue to be without oxygen or nutrients. If blood flow is not restored to the area it will lead to death of the tissue affected. The other form of stroke is a called a hemorrhagic stroke. This is when the blood vessel is weakened and a sudden rise in blood pressure causes the blood vessel to burst. The pressure from the blood entering the tissues causes swelling in the brain and damages the surrounding tissue. The severity of damage from a stroke depends on how much brain tissue is damaged and how soon blood flow can be restored to the area.

So do you need to control hypertension to help decrease your risk of stroke? Hypertension often has no symptoms or you may only experience a mild headache. For this reason hypertension is often undiagnosed. If anyone in your family has hypertension or if you think you may be at risk for developing hypertension you should consult your doctor. They may have you make some lifestyle changes and may even start you on some medications. The guidelines have been to keep the blood pressure less than 140 systolic (top number) and less than 90 diastolic (bottom number) though newer thought says that your blood pressure should be less than 130 systolic and or less than 80 diastolic. Check with your doctor to see what he recommends for you.

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