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Understanding Hypertension and High Cholesterol
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a condition in which the force of the blood pushing against artery walls as it is pumped through the body by the heart is too strong. High cholesterol is a condition in which there is too much cholesterol in the blood. Both conditions raise your risk for heart disease, both can exist without symptoms, and both can be managed with the same healthy lifestyle choices.
Can high blood pressure cause high cholesterol? No, but what hypertension can cause is a build-up of cholesterol along artery walls, which leads to hardened arteries, a condition known as atherosclerosis. High cholesterol levels can also lead to more dangerous plaque build-up. Both can be contributing factors of the same problem.
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High Blood Pressure, High Cholesterol and Atherosclerosis
High blood pressure does not create more cholesterol in the blood but it can cause more cholesterol that is already present in the bloodstream to form plaque along artery walls. How does this happen?
When blood is forced too strongly through the circulatory system, which is the case with high blood pressure, it can cause damage to artery walls. The vascular walls, which when healthy are strong and flexible, are stretched, weakened, and injured. When tiny tears occur, scar tissue forms. This tissue on the walls of arteries and veins catches the material that moves through the bloodstream, including cholesterol, causing plaque formation.
As cholesterol and other debris from the blood build-up along artery walls the problems only become worse. More build-up leads to less room for blood to circulate through. Limited space increases blood pressure because the heart now has to work even harder to pump blood through the body. This can then lead to more damage, more build-up, all the while making the heart work harder.
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This cycle of poor circulatory and heart health is very serious. While high blood pressure does not cause high cholesterol, they both are risk factors for atherosclerosis — controllable risk factors. You can change your blood pressure and cholesterol levels by making healthy choices.
Eating a heart healthy diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes and low in saturated fats and processed foods will help you manage both high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Regular physical activity also has a positive effect on both conditions. Other lifestyle choices such as not smoking and maintaining a healthy weight can also reduce your risk of atherosclerosis and heart disease.
High blood pressure may not cause high cholesterol, but that does not mean that these two conditions are not very closely related. Make sure you and your doctor are aware of both your blood pressure and cholesterol levels and that you are doing all that you can to keep these levels low, your arteries flexible and strong, and your circulatory system clear and free-flowing.
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National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute <http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/Hbc/HBC_WhatIs.html> and <http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/Hbp/HBP_WhatIs.html>
American Heart Association <http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HighBloodPressure/AboutHighBloodPressure/What-is-High-Blood-Pressure_UCM_301759_Article.jsp>
National Cholesterol Education Program <http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/chol/wyntk.htm#levels>
photo by Bernard Goldback (CC/flickr) <http://www.flickr.com/photos/topgold/1396378277/>
photo by Rooey 202 (CC/flickr) <http://www.flickr.com/photos/rooey/5160746327/>