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Atherosclerosis and High Blood Pressure

High Blood Pressure, Atherosclerosis, and Beyond

Because high blood pressure increases the risk of atherosclerosis, it raises the chance of developing all the complications of atherosclerosis, such as:

  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Peripheral arterial disease
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Kidney disease

When it comes to causing atherosclerosis, though, high blood pressure rarely acts alone. High blood pressure in isolation increases the risk of atherosclerosis, but it's particularly dangerous when it in combination with:

  • Diabetes
  • Abnormal cholesterol levels
  • Cigarette smoking

If you have any of these other risk factors and hypertension, your risk of atherosclerosis begins to rise dramatically.

Treat High Blood Pressure, Prevent Atherosclerosis

Treating high blood pressure can provide dramatic protection against atherosclerosis. Much of the decline in the death rate from heart attacks and strokes is due to improved treatment of high blood pressure over the past 50 years.

For example, in middle-aged and older adults with high blood pressure, lowering systolic blood pressure (the top number) by 10 points leads to:

  • 50% to 60% lower risk of dying from stroke
  • 40% to 50% lower risk of death from a heart attack

Exercise and a low-salt diet that is high in fruits and vegetables will reduce blood pressure by a moderate amount. For most people, though, medication is necessary to adequately control high blood pressure. In fact, most people will eventually require two or more drugs for blood pressure.

Numerous drugs effectively treat hypertension. No particular medicine has been proven better than the others at preventing atherosclerosis.

High blood pressure is the most common of the risk factors for atherosclerosis. It's also easily detectable and treatable. Most drugstores and almost all fire stations provide free blood pressure checks, and good medications are available.

Don't fly blind: get checked, know your numbers, and get treated if you have hypertension.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Suzanne R. Steinbaum, MD on July 27, 2014
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