Why is it critical to control your blood pressure in order to avoid stroke? Victor Zach, MD, director of Stroke and Neurocritical Care at HonorHealth John C. Lincoln Medical Center's Neurointensive Care Unit, provides answers.
Q. Why does high blood pressure put you at higher risk for stroke?
A: High blood pressure gradually damages the small blood vessels of the brain, resulting in hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis). This builds up plaque in the blood vessels, which shuts them down permanently and preventing important oxygen and nutrients from getting to the brain.
Q. What's the ideal blood pressure to ensure you're not at a higher risk for stroke?
A: The ideal blood pressure is 120/80 or lower. That might come as a surprise for some because the definition of "normal" changed in late 2017.
Knowing your blood pressure at all times is crucial for preventing stroke. If you have high blood pressure, work with your doctor to normalize it. The more days you can get your blood pressure to be 120/80 or less without feeling dizzy, the longer you'll live.
Q. If you have high blood pressure, is there anything you can do, beyond controlling it, to decrease your risk for stroke?
A: The best recommendations are to maintain a healthy weight, reduce your salt intake and exercise regularly.
Q. Does your risk increase the longer your blood pressure goes uncontrolled, or is it more related to intermittent bursts of high blood pressure?
A: The longer and higher your blood pressure spikes, the more damage it does to your arteries. So, both are correct. You want to keep a consistent blood pressure: 120/80 or lower.
Q. How do you manage high blood pressure other than by medication?
A: Tips to manage high blood pressure without medication:
- Maintain a healthy weight and avoid salt.
- If you smoke, quit. This includes tobacco and marijuana, vaping and Juuling.
- Exercise is key. Make sure you're engaging in vigorous activity — you're sweating and getting your heart rate above 120 for an hour per day at least four days a week. Check with your doctor before beginning an exercise program to make sure this is safe.