High Blood Pressure (Hypertension) is the Leading Cause of Cardiovascular Disease (CVD)

High blood pressure (hypertension) is the leading cause of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and can lead to heart attack, stroke, and other serious conditions.

Helpful Highlights

  • There are often no symptoms of high blood pressure for years and damage to the heart and vessels has already occurred. This is why it's called "the silent killer."

  • High blood pressure, combined with fat and cholesterol deposits in the blood vessels, significantly increases the risk of heart attack (and stroke).

  • Hypertensive heart disease is one of the main types of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and is the leading cause of illness and death from chronic high blood pressure.

  • High blood pressure is the most common modifiable (controllable) risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

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Chronic high blood pressure (hypertension) can cause many heart problems and is the leading cause of cardiovascular disease (CVD), specifically heart disease (also called coronary artery disease or CAD), where the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle itself are narrowed and damaged. Too little blood flow to the heart can lead to chest pain (angina), irregular heart rhythms (arrhythmias), or a heart attack.

Other heart problems include an enlarged or thickened left heart (the heart's main pumping chamber that delivers blood to the rest of the body), which is the leading cause of heart failure and contributes to the risk of heart attack and sudden cardiac death, and heart failure due to the strain on the heart that weakens it over time.

High blood pressure is the most common modifiable (controllable) risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

So, what can your loved one do to prevent or manage high blood pressure?

Prevention or management without medication

  • STOP SMOKING

  • Reduce sodium (salt) intake

  • Eat a heart-healthy diet (fresh fruits and veggies, lean meats, whole grains, home-cooked, limit processed and fast foods)

  • Lose extra pounds and watch the waistline

    • Carrying too much weight around the waist - called central obesity - can increase the risk of high blood pressure (and diabetes)

  • Stay active, exercise regularly

  • Get adequate sleep

  • Limit alcohol intake

  • Reduce stress

  • Monitor blood pressure (once daily at different times of the day)

  • Get regular check-ups

  • Gather support to accomplish these (friends, family, community)

Medications used to manage high blood pressure

  • Diuretics

  • Beta-blockers

  • Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors

  • Angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARB)

  • Calcium channel blockers (CCB)

  • Alpha-blockers

  • Alpha-2 receptor agonists

  • Combined alpha and beta-blockers

  • Vasodilators

How high blood pressure leads to CVD

High blood pressure is the leading cause of CVD. The strain and damage from prolonged high blood pressure cause arteries and veins to become narrowed, hardened, and dysfunctional from plaque — a buildup of fat, cholesterol, and other substances — and decreases their ability to adequately transport blood containing essential oxygen and nutrients to organs and tissues throughout the body.

The conditions resulting from this process make up CVD, which comprises more than a dozen heart and vascular problems, including heart disease, heart valve disease, peripheral artery disease, stroke, and heart attack. It can also impact organs such as the kidneys, lungs, eyes, and brain.

How high blood pressure leads to heart attack

The strain and damage from prolonged high blood pressure cause the coronary arteries to become narrowed and hardened from plaque — a buildup of fat, cholesterol, and other substances — and increases the risk of blood clots forming.

When an artery becomes blocked due to plaque buildup or a blood clot, the flow of blood through the heart muscle is reduced or stopped, starving the muscle of oxygen and nutrients. The resulting damage or death of part of the heart muscle is a heart attack.

How high blood pressure leads to stroke

High blood pressure also increases the risk of blood clots forming, and blood clots cause strokes.

  • Damage to the inner lining of blood vessels can trigger the formation of blood clots to protect the damaged vessel from further injury.

  • Hardened arteries create turbulent blood flow patterns that promote the formation of blood clots.

  • Narrowed arteries create rough surfaces on their inner walls that trap blood cells and platelets, increasing the likelihood of blood clot formation.

  • Likewise, high blood pressure actually stimulates platelets to become more reactive. Increased platelet activity can lead to abnormal blood clot formation within the vessels.

  • High blood pressure can cause blood to become thicker and more viscous (sticky, clingy), impairing blood flow and creating ideal conditions for blood clots to form.

High blood pressure causes more than heart disease

It can cause many complications throughout the body, especially in places where there are very tiny arteries present, such as the kidneys, eyes, lungs, and brain. Examples are:

  • Aneurysms

  • Thinking and memory problems

  • Kidney disease and failure

  • Vision loss

  • Sexual dysfunction

  • Peripheral artery disease (PAD)

Talk with your loved one's provider about ideal blood pressure, weight, and diet, as well as the support available for achieving it. Many health plans have screening benefits, as well as benefits for exercise, nutrition, and monitoring devices (such as a blood pressure cuff).

RESOURCES

American College of Cardiology (ACC)

American Heart Association (AHA)

National Institutes of Health Heart Lung & Blood Institute - The Heart Truth

World Heart Federation

No content in this app, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

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