Atherosclerosis and High Blood Pressure

Medically Reviewed by Dr. K on 20 May 2022

Table of Contents:

  1. High Blood Pressure Basics
  2. How High Blood Pressure Causes Atherosclerosis
  3. High Blood Pressure, Atherosclerosis, and More
  4. Treat High Blood Pressure, Prevent Atherosclerosis


High Blood Pressure


In the United States, around one in every three people has high blood pressure. More than 90% of adults who live to be 80 will have high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, and about 50% of people will have it by the age of 60.


High blood pressure is normal, but it is not innocuous. Atherosclerosis, the artery-clogging mechanism that contributes to heart attacks and strokes, is caused in part by high blood pressure. Blood pressure readings of 130/80 or higher are seen in the following people:


  • 69% of people who have their first heart attack
  • 77% of people who have their first stroke
  • 74% of people who have congestive heart failure

Generally, even though blood pressure is very high, there are no signs. Just 35% of people with hypertension have it under control. Your arteries could be paying the price if you're one of the millions of people with uncontrolled hypertension.

High Blood Pressure Basics


The pressure inside the arteries is known as blood pressure. It's expressed as a pair of numbers, such as “125 over 80." What do these figures mean?


  • The systolic blood pressure is the number at the top. When the heart beats and stretches the arteries, this is the peak pressure.
  • The diastolic blood pressure is the number at the bottom. The pressure in the arteries drops to this level as the heart relaxes.


Blood pressure should be less than 120 over less than 80 in order to be considered normal. Most people need treatment if their blood pressure is higher than 130 over 80. Depending on the other medical problems you might have, treatment may be required at a lower stage.


How High Blood Pressure Causes Atherosclerosis


The heart pumps blood into the entire body's arteries as it beats. With higher blood pressure, arteries in the body swell and stretch more than they would normally with each beat. The endothelium, the fragile lining of all arteries, may be damaged by this stretching, causing arteries to stiffen over time.


A healthy endothelium actively works to prevent the development of atherosclerosis, also known as artery hardening. On the other hand, damaged endothelium allows more “negative" LDL cholesterol and white blood cells to penetrate the artery lining. The plaque of atherosclerosis is formed when cholesterol and cells build up in the artery wall.


Plaque can be extremely harmful. Plaque, which can develop for years without causing symptoms, can unexpectedly burst, creating a blood clot that blocks the artery, preventing oxygen from reaching the heart muscle or the brain. A heart attack or stroke may occur as a result.


High Blood Pressure, Atherosclerosis, and More


Since high blood pressure raises the risk of atherosclerosis, it also raises the risk of all the complications that come with it, including:

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

High blood pressure, on the other hand, rarely works alone in the development of atherosclerosis. In and by itself, high blood pressure raises the risk of atherosclerosis, however when it's combined with:


  • Diabetes 
  • Deranged cholesterol levels
  • Smoking


If you have any of these other risk factors as well as hypertension, your chances of developing atherosclerosis increase exponentially.


Treat High Blood Pressure, Prevent Atherosclerosis


Treatment for high blood pressure will significantly reduce the risk of atherosclerosis. Over the last 50 years, increased treatment of elevated blood pressure has contributed to a significant decrease in the mortality rate from heart attacks and strokes.


For instance, dropping systolic blood pressure (the top number) by 10 points in middle-aged and older adults with high blood pressure results in:


  • 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 rich in fruits and vegetables will help to moderately lower blood pressure. Maintaining a healthy blood pressure needs weight control as well. However, for the vast majority of people, medication is needed to effectively manage high blood pressure. In reality, the majority of people would ultimately need two or more blood pressure medications.


Hypertension can be successfully treated with a variety of medications. There hasn't been any evidence that one drug is better than the others at preventing atherosclerosis.


The main risk factor for atherosclerosis is high blood pressure. It's also simple to diagnose and handle. Free blood pressure tests are available at most pharmacies, and safe prescriptions with no side effects or risks are available.

If you have hypertension, get tested, know your numbers, and get treated.


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