Hypertension is when the force of blood in your arteries is too high. It’s also called high blood pressure. Over time, it can lead to various health problems, including heart disease and stroke.

Heart disease refers to disorders that affect your heart. Stroke, on the other hand, is a condition that affects your brain. It happens when blood flow to your brain is cut off.

Some types of heart disease can increase the risk of stroke. Likewise, stroke may raise the risk of heart problems.

Read on to learn more about hypertension and its relationship with heart disease and stroke.

Hypertension is a risk factor for both heart disease and stroke.

In hypertension, the force of blood flowing through your arteries is too high. This reduces blood flow to your heart, leading to heart disease. High blood pressure can also damage the arteries that supply your brain. The pressure can reduce blood flow to your brain, resulting in a stroke.

Heart disease and stroke are related, too.

Heart disease increases the risk of stroke. It’s found in one-third of people who have a stroke. Heart disease makes it difficult for your heart to properly pump blood, which disrupts blood flow to your brain.

Similarly, having a stroke increases the risk of heart complications, according to a 2020 study. This includes problems like heart attack and heart failure.

Hypertension damages the arteries leading to your heart, as well as the heart itself.

Specifically, the force of high blood pressure stiffens your arteries. It also makes your arteries more prone to plaque buildup. In turn, your arteries become narrow in a process called atherosclerosis.

High blood pressure also forces your heart to work hard to pump blood. As a result, the heart muscle thickens in order to handle the increased pressure. This makes your heart less elastic.

These changes to your arteries and heart reduce blood flow. It can cause heart disease, which may lead to problems like:

  • Coronary artery disease. Coronary artery disease is when plaque accumulates in your arteries. It’s the most common type of heart disease.
  • Heart attack. A heart attack happens when damaged arteries become blocked and prevent blood from reaching your heart.
  • Heart failure. As your heart thickens due to hypertension, it becomes weak. Eventually, your heart might fail to work properly.

Hypertension can also lead to stroke. Again, this is due to the damaging effects of hypertension on your arteries.

There are two main types of strokes. Both types may be caused by hypertension:

Ischemic stroke

High blood pressure strains the arteries that supply your brain with blood. This makes the arteries narrow, resulting in a blockage. If this happens, blood flow to your brain gets cut off, causing an ischemic stroke.

High blood pressure promotes the buildup of plaque, too. The plaque can further narrow arteries and prevent blood flow to your brain.

Hemorrhagic stroke

The strain of high blood pressure weakens the artery walls. This can make it harder for arteries to handle the pressure.

Eventually, a weakened artery near or in your brain may burst, causing sudden bleeding. This is called a hemorrhagic stroke.

A blood pressure reading consists of two numbers.

The top number is the systolic blood pressure. It refers to the force in your arteries when your heart beats and pushes blood. The bottom number is the diastolic blood pressure. It refers to the pressure against your arteries in between heartbeats.

Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg).

Blood pressure categorySystolic blood pressure (mm Hg)Diastolic blood pressure (mm Hg)
Normalless than 120less than 80
Elevated (prehypertension)120–129less than 80
Stage 1 hypertension130–13980–89
Stage 2 hypertension140 or higher90 or higher
Hypertension crisishigher than 180higher than 120

High blood pressure usually has no obvious symptoms. It’s a relatively silent condition.

Generally, hypertension will only cause symptoms if it has become severe. But it can take many years for this to happen.

According to the American Heart Association, symptoms that may be related to hypertension include:

  • blood spots in your eyes
  • flushing
  • dizziness

However, these symptoms are not directly caused by hypertension. The only way to know if you have hypertension is to get a blood pressure reading.

Hypertension is treatable. Treatment involves lifestyle habits and medication that lower blood pressure.

Lowering blood pressure is one of the best ways to prevent heart disease and stroke. According to a 2016 study, reducing systolic blood pressure by 10 mm Hg lowers the risk of coronary heart disease, heart failure, and stroke.

A 2016 review also notes that lowering systolic blood pressure to less than 130 mm Hg reduces the risk of these conditions.

To lower blood pressure:

  • Manage your weight. Being overweight increases your risk of high blood pressure.
  • Exercise regularly. Exercise strengthens your heart and puts less strain on your arteries.
  • Limit sodium. Eating too much sodium raises blood pressure. Examples of high sodium foods include cold cuts and frozen meals.
  • Reduce alcohol consumption. Drinking too much alcohol can increase blood pressure.
  • Quit smoking. If you smoke cigarettes, try to quit. Smoking hardens arteries and raises blood pressure. This is often difficult, but a doctor can help create a cessation plan that works for you.
  • Manage stress levels. Stress may promote unhealthy lifestyle habits, like frequently drinking alcohol or eating processed foods. There are numerous ways you can lower stress in your life.
  • Take prescription medications. A doctor can prescribe medications that help lower blood pressure. Examples include angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors and calcium channel blockers.

By reducing blood pressure, these habits and treatments can help prevent heart disease and stroke. They’ll also manage other risk factors, like high cholesterol and diabetes.

If you’ve already received a diagnosis of hypertension, continue seeing your doctor regularly. Follow their tips for managing blood pressure and take your medications as directed.

You should also see a doctor if you have:

  • a family history of hypertension, heart disease, or stroke
  • diabetes
  • difficulty breathing
  • pain or discomfort in your limbs, jaw, neck, or back
  • unexplained chest pain
  • changes in vision
Medical emergency

Chronic hypertension can cause severe health problems. The following symptoms require emergency help:

  • chest pain
  • shortness of breath
  • pain in one or both arms
  • pain in your jaw, neck, or back
  • weakness on one side of your face or body
  • difficulty speaking
  • paralysis
  • vision problems
  • dizziness
  • severe unexplained headache
  • fainting

Hypertension usually causes no symptoms. The only way to know if you have high blood pressure is to get a blood pressure reading. Without treatment, hypertension can lead to heart disease or stroke.

You can lower high blood pressure by limiting sodium, exercising regularly, and reducing alcohol intake. If you smoke cigarettes, quitting will help. Your doctor may prescribe medications to help lower blood pressure, too.

If you’re unsure if you have hypertension, see a doctor. This is especially important if you have a family history of hypertension, heart disease, or stroke.