Hypertension and AtherosclerosisHypertension contributes to atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. Atherosclerosis can result when the arterial walls try to defend themselves against the increased force of the blood by becoming stiffer, thicker, and narrower. Narrowed vessels choke off blood flow and lead to heart attack, stroke, and a host of other complications.
Complications of Atherosclerosis: Angina and Heart AttackReduced blood flow to the heart can lead to angina (chest pain), caused by oxygen deprivation in the heart muscle tissue, and tissue damage. It can also lead to myocardial infarction—a heart attack, when heart muscle tissue actually dies due to lack of oxygen, usually due to a blockage in a coronary artery already narrowed by atherosclerosis. Untreated hypertension is one of the major risk factors for heart disease, the leading cause of death in the US.
Complications of Atherosclerosis: StrokeHypertension is the most important risk factor for stroke. In fact, people with hypertension are 4-6 times more likely to have a stroke. Why is hypertension so closely correlated with stroke? The answer is, once again, atherosclerosis. Hardening of the large arteries leads to blockage and weakening of the smaller blood vessels of the brain. This makes them susceptible to both types of stroke, ischemic and hemorrhagic. READ MORE
- Ischemic stroke. Clots form in the arteries of the brain, or form elsewhere in the body and then travel to the brain. The clots cut off the flow of blood to the brain and cause brain tissue damage or death. Ischemic stroke can also occur when too much plaque (consisting mostly of cholesterol) clogs the brain's arteries.
- Hemorrhagic stroke. An artery in the brain breaks or ruptures. The lack of blood to the regions beyond the rupture causes tissue damage, and the blood itself irritates the brain cells.
The Cardiovascular ContinuumResearchers have found that heart attacks and heart failure are really the late complications of a whole chain of events: the cardiovascular continuum. The cardiovascular continuum links various risk factors, like hypertension or high cholesterol, with different types of heart disease, which become progressively more severe throughout a person’s life. Heart disease that occurs later in the continuum, like atherosclerosis, heart tissue death, and heart failure, is difficult and sometimes impossible to reverse.
By treating early risk factors in the cardiovascular continuum, like hypertension, it may be possible to prevent or slow the development of heart disease and to prolong life.