May is American Stroke Month

May 06, 2015

High blood pressure is a risk factor

Blood pressures should be checked regularly. Shown is a registered nurse at Penn Highlands Healthcare takes a blood pressure of a patient.

Think that high-blood pressure isn’t much of a problem? Think again, said Jolene Barbazzeni, stroke coordinator for The Stroke Center of Penn Highlands DuBois which is a part of the Penn Highlands Healthcare system. The Stroke Center provides support for all four hospitals in the system for the care of stroke patients.

Stroke is a leading cause of death and severe, long-term disability.  One of the top risk factors for stroke is high-blood pressure. This means managing high-blood pressure is a great way to reduce the risk of stroke happening.

What is a stroke? Stroke is a disease that affects the blood vessels that supply blood to the brain. A stroke occurs when a blood vessel to the brain is either blocked by a clot, call an ischemic stroke, or bursts, called a hemorrhagic stroke. 

When part of the brain is no longer getting the blood and oxygen it needs, it starts to die.  As the brain controls movement and thoughts, it also hurts other body functions. Strokes can affect language, memory and vision as well as cause paralysis and other health issues. 

How does high blood pressure cause a stroke? High blood pressure, also called HBP or hypertension, damages arteries so they burst or clog more easily, Barbazzeni said. “HBP can damage arteries throughout the body. Weakened arteries in the brain put you at much higher risk for stroke.”

“About 87 percent of strokes are ischemic strokes. Again, they are caused by narrowed or clogged blood vessels in the brain that cut off the blood flow to brain cells,” she said. “Because HBP damages arteries throughout the body, it is critical to keep your blood pressure within acceptable ranges to protect your brain from this often disabling or fatal event.”
“About 13 percent of strokes are hemorrhagic strokes, which occur when a blood vessel ruptures in or near the brain. When a blood vessel ruptures, it can bleed into the deep tissue in the brain or in the space between the brain and the skull. High blood pressure damages the arteries and can create weak places that rupture easily or thin spots that fill up with blood and balloon out from the artery wall. This is called an aneurysm. Chronic HBP or aging blood vessels are the main causes of this type of stroke,” she said.

HBP is largely a symptomless condition. It is important to be screened regularly to know what the numbers are.  “A ‘normal’ blood pressure is listed by the American Heart Association as 120/80,” Barbazzeni said. “However, no two people are the same when it comes to blood pressure and the results should be individualized. A reason it is important to discuss blood pressure with your primary care provider and determine an acceptable blood pressure for you.”

To control blood pressure:
Eat a better diet, which may include reducing salt;
Enjoy regular physical activity;
Maintain a healthy weight;
Manage stress;
Avoid tobacco;
Comply with medication prescriptions;
If you drink, limit alcohol.

“Blood pressure has been called ‘the silent killer’ because many times it has no symptoms,” Barbazzeni said. “ By identifying your risk, preventing high blood pressure, or controlling high blood pressure, you can lower your risk for developing other serious health problems.  Take the first step this month – National American Stroke Month - to a healthy lifestyle, discuss your risk and concern for high blood pressure with your doctor or nurse.”