Johns Hopkins Health Alerts Topic Page:
Hypertension (High Blood Pressure) and Stroke
As blood circulates, it exerts pressure on the walls of the arteries. Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is characterized by a persistent increase in this pressure, even when a person is at rest. The disorder is one of the most common chronic health problems in the United States, affecting nearly 74 million Americans.
High blood pressure is also the most important risk factor for stroke—the third leading cause of death in the United States and the leading cause of disability. If left untreated, this “silent killer,” as high blood pressure is often called, is a primary cause not only of stroke, but also of coronary heart disease, heart failure, kidney disease, and blindness.
The good news: Hypertension can be easily detected and is usually controllable with lifestyle measures (diet, physical activity, and maintenance of a healthy weight) and medication. In fact, research repeatedly shows that successfully treating high blood pressure can reduce your risk of a stroke by about 50% and your likelihood of a heart attack by about 20%.
What is blood pressure? Blood pressure is the amount of force that blood exerts on the walls of blood vessels as it travels through the circulatory system. Blood does not travel in a steady flow but is propelled through the blood vessels with the force of every heartbeat. Each time the heart contracts—a period known as systole—blood pressure rises as more blood is forced through the arteries. Every systole is followed by a moment of relaxation, called diastole, when blood pressure drops as the heart refills with blood and rests before its next contraction.
Because pressure in the arteries rises and falls with each heartbeat, readings include two values—systolic blood pressure on the top and diastolic blood pressure on the bottom. Therefore, if your blood pressure is 140/90 mm Hg, this means you have a systolic pressure of 140 mm Hg and a diastolic pressure of 90 mm Hg.
How Johns Hopkins can help. If you or someone you care about has high blood pressure, obtaining accurate information is an important part of the treatment plan.
Because of the close relationship between high blood pressure and stroke, both topics are addressed in this area of Johns Hopkins Health Alerts.
- You’ll find articles on: how to cut back on salt, hypertension and your memory, benefits of a vegetable-rich diet, treating hypertension as you age, masked hypertension, DASH diet tips, best exercises to lower your blood pressure, recognizing a stroke, and much more.
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