patient responsibility

Stroke and Hypertension: Understanding the link

According to the American Heart Association, High blood pressure (HBP) is the single most important and preventable risk factor for stroke.

With the increase in stroke cases today many times due to hypertension, it’s important to know the relationship between hypertension and stroke. Although stroke can be caused by other disease conditions like heart attacks, atrial fibrillation etc., the focus here is on hypertension.

High blood pressure also called Hypertension is a disease condition in which the blood exerts a higher than normal pressure on the walls of the blood vessels as it is pumped by the heart throughout the body. High blood pressure is now a common disease condition of the elderly and even younger adults.

There are two major types of High blood pressure

  1. Primary hypertension: this type is not associated with any known cause. It is thought to be linked to genetics or family history.
  2. Secondary Hypertension: this type is caused by other disease conditions that affect the heart, kidney or other organs.

There are several factors that predispose individuals to hypertension, some are modifiable and others are  not.

The modifiable factors are those factors which can be changed or adjusted by the individual. They include:

  • Unhealthy diets: this could be due to over consumption of animal fat (unsaturated and trans fats) e.g. beef fat, pork fat, butter etc. This increases the level of cholesterol in the blood. Accumulation of cholesterol increases the risk of hypertension.
  • Lack of regular exercise: Lack of regular exercise can result to a person being overweight or obese. Obesity is a risk factor for several disease conditions including hypertension.
  • High consumption of salts
  • Consumption of foods with low potassium content
  • Smoking
  • Excessive alcohol consumption

Stroke is a disease condition which occurs as a result of complete obstruction or inadequate supply of oxygen rich blood to a particular section of the brain. It is preventable but can result in death, long term physical disability, memory loss etc.

Stroke is more common in age 55 and above and in men than in women.


When very high blood pressure is not kept under control by use of medications and lifestyle modifications, it results to hypertensive crisis which can lead to a stroke.

Hypertensive crisis is a condition in which there is a severely elevated blood pressure of above 180/120 mmHg. It could be hypertensive urgency or hypertensive emergency. Hypertensive emergency can lead to organ damage, stroke, heart attack and other health problems.

The accumulation of fatty substances known as plaques in the walls of the blood vessels, (a disease condition known as Atherosclerosis) causes narrowing of the vessels. This increases the pressure with which blood passes through these blood vessels, thus resulting in high blood pressure.

If a blood vessel that supplies blood to a part of the brain is affected i.e. narrowed or completely blocked, that part of the brain is deprived of oxygen rich blood. This can result in brain cells lacking oxygen and nutrients required to carry out normal brain functions. The brain cells die off and may result to complete shutdown leading to an  ischemic stroke.

It’s also noteworthy that when a very high pressure is exerted on the walls of the blood vessels, the blood vessels become weakened, may rupture and bleed leading to hemorrhagic stroke.


  • Take all blood pressure (BP) medications according to your doctor or pharmacist. Do not take any other medicine without telling your pharmacist.
  • Regular blood pressure checks: This helps you to know whether your blood pressure is high or within normal. You can easily check your blood pressure without the help of another person or yourself by means of a digital BP apparatus or by going to the nearest pharmacy.

The other measures are lifestyle changes and they have proved to be very effective in addition to medications for persons with hypertension. They include:

  • Adopt a healthy diet plan: This includes reduction in animal fat consumption, reduction in salt intake, increasing fruits and vegetables in your diet to provide the required vitamins and nutrients, increasing the consumption of fiber rich foods example oats, beans etc.
  • Regular exercise: This can be done for most days of the week and helps you to maintain a healthy body weight.
  • Quit smoking
  • Reducing stress as much as possible

Although high blood pressure cannot be treated, it can successfully be kept under control for a long time by using medications and a healthy lifestyle. So many people do not seek medical care early or comply with medical advice and that is responsible for many preventable deaths.

Sticking to your Pharmacist’s advice is a sure way to prevent stroke due to hypertension.

Obika Chinwendu  (B.Pharm UPH)

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