Will High Blood Pressure Cause a Stroke?

Most people living with high blood pressure do not know they have it. This is one of many reasons the condition endangers your heart, brain, and overall health.

There are many reasons strokes occur. Though not all of them are fatal, they are still a leading cause of death and long-term disability in the United States. The older you are, the more high blood pressure, or hypertension, can put your life at risk. But there are other factors that might also put you in danger.

Here’s what really happens when you have a stroke, what high blood pressure might have to do with it, and how to know if you’re at risk.

What happens during a stroke?

Stroke

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Regardless of what causes it, a stroke occurs when a blood vessel in your brain either becomes blocked or bursts. This means whatever part of your brain that vessel was in stops receiving oxygen-rich blood — which it needs in order to remain functional.

Without oxygen, cells in your brain start to die off. And depending on where in the brain this occurs, the damage can affect your ability to think, speak, and move. Severe strokes can cause major paralysis in the body and can even be fatal.

The majority of strokes occur due to blockages in either arteries or blood vessels that provide your brain with the oxygen it needs. Blockages or blood clots often form due to plaque buildup in artery walls, which often occurs as the result of high cholesterol and other excess substances in the body.

Can high blood pressure cause a stroke?

Untreated high blood pressure significantly increases your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. This is because the walls of your arteries tend to harden and/or thicken when you have high blood pressure, increasing the chances of an artery becoming blocked.

Your arteries are supposed to be thin and flexible to allow blood to flow through them easily. However, when plaque builds up in your artery walls, you’re at an increased risk of those arteries either suffering blockages or sending a blood clot to your brain that can block a blood vessel and deprive your brain of oxygen.

Hardened, thickened arteries and high blood pressure are not a good combination. Though there are medical and other uncontrollable risk facors that increase your risk of developing hypertension, alcohol use, physical activity level, and diet are some of the most common reasons people develop it.

How to know if you have high blood pressure

High blood pressure

High blood pressure | Monkeybusinessimages/iStock/Getty Images

Hypertension does not usually cause flushing in the face, dizziness, headaches, or nosebleeds. One or more of these things may happen if you are in serious danger — this is called a hypertensive crisis, and requires immediate medical attention. Otherwise, these symptoms are likely unrelated.

It’s nearly impossible to detect hypertension without seeing a doctor. High blood pressure develops slowly over time, and usually does not present with symptoms. This means you could live with it for a long time without realizing it’s causing damage to your body.

A health care professional can take a current blood pressure reading at a regular doctor’s visit. However, officially diagnosing high blood pressure might require multiple readings at separate appointments. Your doctor might also have you record your blood pressure numbers at home and bring those records to another appointment.

Blood pressure can fluctuate. So before providing a formal diagnosis, your doctor will want to have as much data about your individual blood pressure over a certain period of time as possible.