Perhaps the relationship that is easiest to appreciate is the one between high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease, which includes heart-related conditions (e.g., heart failure, heart attack, congestive heart failure, coronary heart disease, and angina) and stroke. Hypertension is one of the most common and powerful risk factors for cardiovascular disease. An estimated 25 percent of adults have cardiovascular disease, resulting in about 7.1 million deaths per year.
It’s no secret that hypertension places excessive tension on the heart and blood vessels. Indeed, it’s a fact that leads some people to envision high blood pressure causing a blood vessel to erupt in the brain, causing a stroke. Although a blood vessel certainly can burst and cause this cardiovascular event, it’s not the main problem people encounter when they have high blood pressure. In fact, the impact of hypertension on the heart and cardiovascular system is more subtle yet pervasive: it contributes to a heart that needs to work harder to pump blood throughout the body.
The higher your blood pressure, the more damage occurs to the inner lining of your arteries and other blood vessels. This damage triggers events that leave your artery walls stiff and thick (a condition called arteriosclerosis). This damage sets up your arteries to attract cholesterol and other fats. Other cardiovascular events also can develop, including heart failure, coronary artery disease, enlarged heart, angina, stroke, peripheral arterial disease, and heart attack. In some individuals, the persistent high pressure against the arteries can cause a bulge (aneurysm) in the arterial wall. If this aneurysm ruptures, it can cause life threatening internal bleeding.
Don’t forget that stroke is considered to be a cardiovascular event, and so the risks of transient ischemic attack (TIA) and stroke are associated with heart and blood vessel events when we talk about hypertension. A transient ischemic attack, or mini-stroke, is a short-term break of blood supply towards the brain. A TIA can be caused by atherosclerosis or a blood clot, both of which can result from high blood pressure. A stroke occurs when your brain does not receive oxygen and nutrients, which in turn causes brain cells to die. Hypertension can contribute to stroke in two ways, one of which is its part in the formation of blood clots that can travel to the brain and the other of which is by causing damage to the blood vessels in the brain.