Did you know that half of all adults have high blood pressure and only 1 in 4 have their condition under control? In honor of High Blood Pressure Education Month this May, we’re going to take a closer look at how high blood pressure affects the body, specifically the brain. In this blog post, we will discuss what high blood pressure is, why it’s important to keep your blood pressure under control, and how high blood pressure can specifically affect the brain. We’ll also provide tips on how you can lower your blood pressure and protect your health!
What is high blood pressure?
Blood pressure is the force of your blood against the walls of your arteries and is measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg). High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is when your blood pressure readings are consistently above 120/80 mmHg. Stage 1 hypertension is when your systolic blood pressure (the top number) is 130 or higher, and Stage II hypertension is when your systolic blood pressure is 140 or higher.
The top number, or systolic blood pressure, measures the force exerted on your arteries when your heart contracts and pumps blood through your body. The bottom number, or diastolic blood pressure, measures the force exerted on your arteries in between heartbeats, when your heart is at rest.
If you have high blood pressure, it means that your heart is working harder than it should to pump blood through your body. This can lead to a variety of health problems, including stroke, heart attack, heart failure, and kidney disease. That’s why it’s so important to keep your blood pressure under control!
How does high blood pressure affect the brain?
High blood pressure has been found to be especially damaging on the brain, even more so than the heart. High blood pressure affects the brain in the following ways:
Increases the risk of stroke:
High blood pressure is the leading cause of stroke, which is a sudden interruption in blood flow to the brain. This can cause permanent damage to the brain and lead to death. There are two types of strokes: hemorrhagic, which is when a blood vessel in the brain ruptures, and ischemic, which is when a blood clot blocks blood flow to the brain.
Major hemorrhagic strokes are rare and produce dramatic symptoms that are easy to recognize. However, there can also be milder hemorrhagic strokes that cause small microbleeds in the brain. These mild hemorrhagic strokes are more common than major hemorrhagic strokes, however they are harder to detect since they don’t often cause symptoms.
Ischemic strokes are the most common type of stroke. Ischemic strokes can occur as a thrombotic stroke or embolic stroke. A thrombotic stroke happens when a blood clot forms in an artery that is already narrow from high blood pressure. An embolic stroke occurs when a blood clot forms in another part of the body, such as the heart, and then travels to the brain. Mild ischemic strokes, known as lacunar strokes, can also occur. Like microbleeds, these tiny strokes don’t often produce symptoms.
Both microbleeds and lacunar strokes are known as “silent strokes” due to their lack of symptoms. Unfortunately, people over the age of 60 with hypertension are more likely to experience one or more of these silent strokes. Overtime, multiple silent strokes can eventually lead to problems like memory loss and/or cognitive decline. Generally speaking, the higher your blood pressure, the higher the risk of having either a symptomatic or silent stroke.
Can increase the likelihood of developing dementia:
High blood pressure is a risk factor for developing dementia, which is a progressive deterioration of cognitive function. While there are several causes of dementia, the vast majority of cases can be traced back to vascular dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Vascular dementia occurs when there is damage to the brain’s blood vessels. This can be due to a number of reasons, including stroke, microbleeds, or lacunar strokes (as mentioned above). Since high blood pressure is a common culprit behind these conditions, it’s not surprising that hypertension is a major risk factor for developing vascular dementia.
As for Alzheimer’s disease, studies have found that people with high blood pressure are more likely to develop the condition than those with normal blood pressure. One theory is that high blood pressure causes damage to the brain’s arteries, which leads to a build-up of plaque. This plaque then triggers an inflammatory response, which damages brain cells and leads to Alzheimer’s disease.
While the exact mechanisms are still being studied, it is clear that high blood pressure can have a significant impact on the brain and lead to cognitive decline.
How can I lower my blood pressure?
Research has found that lowering your blood pressure by even 10 mm/Hg decreases the risk of stroke by 44%. Lowering high blood pressure has also been seen to decrease the risk of vascular dementia, as well as Alzheimer’s although there is still some debate as to how much the risk is lowered. There are a number of things you can do to lower your blood pressure and keep it under control. These include:
- Eating a healthy diet: Eating a diet that is low in salt, fat, and sugar can help to lower your blood pressure.
- Exercising regularly: Exercise helps to strengthen your heart and arteries and can lower your blood pressure.
- Quitting smoking: Smoking cigarettes damages your arteries and increases your risk of developing high blood pressure.
- Reducing stress: Stress can raise your blood pressure, so it’s important to find ways to relax and manage your stress levels.
By following these tips, you can lower your blood pressure and protect your health! For more information on how to control your blood pressure, talk to your doctor or visit the website for the American Heart Association.
High blood pressure is a serious condition that can lead to stroke, mental decline, and dementia. It’s important to keep your blood pressure under control by eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, quitting smoking, and reducing stress. By following these tips, you can lower your blood pressure and protect your health! For more information on how to control your blood pressure, talk to your doctor or visit the website for the American Heart Association. Thanks for reading!
Dr. Kashouty, a diplomate of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN), practices general neurology with fellowship trained specialization in clinical neurophysiology. Dr. Kashouty finds the form and function of the nerves and muscles the most interesting part of neurology, which is what led him to specialize in neurophysiology with more emphasis on neuromuscular conditions. He treats all neurological diseases, but his main focus is to treat and manage headaches, movement disorders and neuromuscular diseases.