How are High Cholesterol and Hypertension Related?

cholesterol & hypertension

High cholesterol and hypertension, also called high blood pressure, are two of the biggest causes of heart disease, and they affect millions of Americans. In the U.S., about one in three adults have high blood pressure and two in five have high cholesterol.

High cholesterol and high blood pressure are not only very common, they are also closely linked. When cholesterol plaque and calcium build up in the arteries, the heart must work much harder to pump blood to the rest of your body, causing blood pressure to rise and increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke.

What causes high cholesterol and high blood pressure?

“Both lifestyle factors and genetics play a role in causing elevated blood pressure or cholesterol,” said Muhammad K. Minhaj, MD, a physician with Penn Highlands Internal Medicine in Ridgway, Pa. “We often see these conditions in patients who eat a diet that is high in fat, live a sedentary lifestyle, are overweight or have a condition such as diabetes or hypothyroidism.”

What are the symptoms of high cholesterol and hypertension?

High cholesterol and hypertension typically develop slowly, and they often have no symptoms.

“Because of the lack of symptoms, it can be hard to know if you have developed high cholesterol until it ultimately leads to a heart attack or stroke,” said Dr. Minhaj. “That is why regular visits to your primary care provider are so important. Getting regular screenings can save your life.”

In addition to screenings, you should also be aware of the symptoms of a hypertensive crisis, which is a sudden and severe increase in blood pressure (180/120 mm Hg or greater). A hypertensive crisis is a medical emergency that needs immediate attention. Symptoms may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Blurred vision
  • Chest pain
  • Confusion
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Not responding to stimulation (unresponsiveness)
  • Seizures
  • Severe headache
  • Shortness of breath

If you get a very high blood pressure reading at home but do not have any symptoms, relax for a few minutes and then check your blood pressure again. If it is still very high, seek medical care.

If your blood pressure is 180/120 mm Hg or greater and you have chest pain, shortness of breath or symptoms of stroke (numbness, tingling, trouble speaking or changes in vision), call 911.

How often should I have my blood pressure and cholesterol checked?

At your annual exam, your primary care provider will measure your blood pressure and help you determine how frequently you should have your cholesterol screened. Cholesterol tests are simple blood tests that can often be done as part of your annual exam.

The American Heart Association recommends that adults ages 20 or older with a low risk have their cholesterol checked every four to six years. If you have an increased risk of heart attack or stroke, your provider may suggest getting screened more often.

How are high cholesterol and hypertension treated?

Depending on how severe your condition is, medications, lifestyle changes or a combination of the two are often effective in treating high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

If your blood pressure or cholesterol is moderately high, your primary care provider will typically prescribe a medication in addition to making these important lifestyle changes:

  • Exercise regularly. Moderate intensity activity for 150 minutes per week, may help lower your blood pressure in just a few weeks, particularly if you were previously leading a sedentary lifestyle.
  • Lose weight. If you are overweight or obese, moderate weight loss of five to ten pounds can help lower blood pressure and also can make hypertension medications more effective.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Consuming a diet that is low in fat and salt and high in potassium is a great plan. Choose plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds and low-fat dairy products. Be sure to read food labels for hidden sodium and try to keep your daily intake to 2,300 milligrams or less per day.
  • Get plenty of rest. When you get a good night’s sleep and use relaxation techniques such as meditation or yoga, it can help you maintain good health.

If it is time for your annual physical, the primary care providers at Penn Highlands Healthcare can work with you to guide you to a heart-healthy lifestyle. During the visit, the provider will help you assess your risk for high cholesterol, as well as other conditions, and recommend lifestyle changes or treatments if needed. Penn Highlands Family Medicine and Internal Medicine providers are located throughout Pennsylvania so that you can get the care you need close to home. For more information or to find a provider near you, visit