What is high blood pressure?

Blood pressure is a measurement of the force of the bloodstream against the inside walls of the arteries. Arteries are the blood vessels that carry blood from the heart to the rest of the body. Veins bring blood back to the heart.

Uncontrolled high blood pressure (hypertension) damages your arteries. Weakened arteries are less effective at moving blood throughout the body. Cholesterol plaque can also form in the scar tissue created by long-term hypertension.

High blood pressure is a risk factor for stroke, heart attack, and other cardiovascular problems.

Primary or essential hypertension is when high blood pressure develops over time with no clear cause.

Secondary hypertension is high blood pressure with specific (“secondary”) causes. These may include:

The following may also increase your risk for high blood pressure:

  • being overweight or obese
  • smoking
  • sedentary lifestyle
  • drinking too much alcohol
  • consuming too much sodium
  • old age

A family history of hypertension is also a major risk factor for high blood pressure.

You may be able to lower your blood pressure through lifestyle changes. These changes may include:

  • losing weight
  • reducing sodium intake
  • exercising regularly
  • improving the quality of your sleep
  • reducing alcohol consumption to moderate or low levels

If you need to decrease your blood pressure significantly, you’ll probably need other medications and lifestyle changes.

Common medications for treating hypertension include:

Medications are most effective if they’re part of an overall treatment plan. Your treatment plan should address other cardiovascular risks such as smoking, obesity, and high cholesterol.

Your doctor may prescribe medication to help control your blood pressure. Statins are a type of medication usually used to lower cholesterol.

Statins are designed to bring down your low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad” cholesterol. They do this by lowering the amount of cholesterol plaque that forms in the arteries.

Cholesterol plaque narrows your blood’s pathways. This reduces the amount of blood that reaches your organs and muscles. When an artery eventually becomes blocked, serious health problems can result.

If a coronary artery is blocked, a heart attack results. If blood flow to the brain is blocked, a stroke occurs.

Types of statins

There are several different types of statins. The main difference between them is their potency. The type of statin your doctor prescribes is primarily based on your LDL level:

  • If your cholesterol is very high, you may be prescribed a stronger statin such as rosuvastatin (Crestor).
  • If your LDL cholesterol needs only a minor reduction, a weaker statin such as pravastatin (Pravachol), may be recommended.

Statins are best used by people who have a family history of cardiovascular disease and a high risk of heart problems.

According to the American College of Cardiology and American Heart Association, you may benefit from statins if you have:

  • cardiovascular disease
  • very high LDL cholesterol
  • diabetes
  • high 10-year risk of heart attack (an LDL above 100 mg/dL)

If you have high blood pressure you should make important lifestyle changes that help improve the effects of the statins.

Exercising regularly and keeping a well-balanced diet is important. Cardio exercises that encourage blood flow and heart health are especially beneficial. Some examples of this are running, biking, and walking.

High blood pressure can also be improved by staying away from fatty, sugary, and salty foods. Some examples of foods that help lower high blood pressure are:

  • leafy greens
  • berries
  • potatoes
  • beets
  • oatmeal

Avoid smoking and heavy alcohol use as well.

According to the Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology and Therapeutics, statins may do more for your arteries than just lower cholesterol. It suggests that statins can help reduce the risk of narrowed arteries. They do this by keeping the muscle lining of the arteries healthy.

They can also reduce the deposits of fibrin in the arteries. Fibrin is a type of protein involved in blood clot formation.

According to the Archives of Internal Medicine, even with modest improvement in blood pressure from statin use, the risk of heart attack and stroke will still diminish. Anything that helps reduce your risk even a little is welcome, especially if you’re at high risk for a cardiovascular event.

Most people tolerate statins pretty well. Like any drug, they have some potential side effects:

  • The most common side effect of statins is muscle pain. However, pain often goes away as the body adjusts to the drug.
  • There is also a slight risk of increased blood sugar levels and “fuzzy” thinking while on statins. These symptoms don’t occur in most patients, and they usually disappear if you stop taking the drug.

Avoid mixing statins with grapefruit. Grapefruit causes an increase to the side effect of the drugs. This could put you at risk for muscle breakdown, liver damage, and kidney failure. More mild cases can cause pain in the joints and muscles.

Grapefruit suppresses an enzyme that normally helps the body process statins. This enzyme balances out how much of it goes to the bloodstream. Grapefruit can cause higher amounts of the drug in the bloodstream.

The exact amount of grapefruit that needs to be avoided with statins is unknown. Most doctors suggest avoiding it or consuming it in very small, moderated doses.

Smoking cigarettes should also be avoided when taking statins. According to one study, smoking decreases the positive effects of statins. Smokers had a 74 to 86 percent higher risk of events.

If your blood pressure needs to decrease significantly, your doctor will probably recommend other medications and lifestyle changes.

If your LDL cholesterol levels are within the normal or healthy range, you shouldn’t take a statin just for other benefits (such as modest blood pressure reduction).

A heart-healthy diet and regular exercise most days of the week are part of the prescription for better blood pressure and cholesterol. Talk with your doctor about lifestyle changes and medications to get your blood pressure under control.