High Blood Pressure and Stroke
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, or commonly in St. Vincent as just “pressure”, is the single most important risk factor for stroke. It causes about 50 per cent of ischemic strokes and also increases the risk of haemorrhagic stroke.
The damage that hypertension causes happen over time and is often only diagnosed when considerable damage has already happened to the body’s blood vessels. If you have hypertension you are unlikely to have any obvious symptoms for a long time. Symptoms associated with hypertension include tiredness, confusion, vision changes, angina-like chest pain, heart failure, blood in urine, nosebleed, irregular heartbeat, ear noise or buzzing. Hypertension is also commonly referred to as the silent killer, because sometimes you may have high blood pressure and you do not even know.
High blood pressure is defined as a systolic blood pressure above 140 mmHg and/or a diastolic blood pressure above 90 mmHg. Systolic blood pressure is the maximum pressure in the arteries when the heart contracts. Diastolic blood pressure is the minimum pressure in the arteries between the heart’s contractions.
You will be classed as having high blood pressure if yours is consistently above 140/90 mmHg.
The strain hypertension places on all your blood vessels makes them weaken and predisposes them to damage. Your heart also has to work harder to keep your blood circulating. Once your blood vessels weaken they are more likely to block. This can cause an ischemic stroke and hypertension is the most important cause of this type of stroke and also transient ischemic attacks. Less often, hypertension is implicated in hemorrhagic strokes when a blood vessel in the brain bursts and blood leaks into the brain.
Hypertension is more common in older people. Certain ethnic groups, such as Afro-Caribbean people, are particularly at risk. It is important that all adults have their blood pressure checked regularly and to act on medical advice. Hypertension can be managed successfully, although many people do not seek treatment. The management of hypertension may require modification of lifestyle habits like smoking, drinking and eating unhealthy food that is filled with fats and salt.
Dr. Rosmond Adams, MD; MSc (Public Health); M.S (Bioethics) is a medical doctor and a public health specialist with training in bioethics and ethical issues in medicine, the life sciences and research. He is a lecturer of medical ethics and Research Methods.
He is the Head of Health Information, Communicable Disease and Emergency Response at the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA). He is also a member of the World Health Organization Global Coordination Mechanism on the Prevention and Control of NCDs.
(The views expressed here are that of the writer and not of any organizations). You may contact him at [email protected]