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Can High Blood Pressure and Cholesterol Levels Affect Your Heart?

Written by Reshma Pathare on Wed, 07 December 2022 — Fact checked by Dr. Sintayehu Abebe

Key Highlights

  • High blood pressure damages the walls of the arteries.
  • High cholesterol triggers the formation of plaque buildups that narrow the blood vessels of the heart.
  • Get your blood pressure and cholesterol levels checked routinely.
  • Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and a balanced diet can help you lower your blood pressure and cholesterol levels and keep your heart healthy.
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When you go for a routine health check-up, you must always get your blood pressure and cholesterol levels checked. But ever wondered why these two are considered essential elements of health check-ups?

Your blood pressure and cholesterol levels have a lot to do with your well-being. High blood pressure and cholesterol levels can affect your heart. So, what happens if you have high cholesterol (hypercholesteremia) or high blood pressure (hypertension)?

According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), hypercholesteremia and hypertension are two primary reasons for heart disease and stroke?

In this article, let us understand what blood pressure and cholesterol levels are and how they are connected to heart health.

Blood pressure

When our heart pumps blood, the force applied by the flowing blood on the arterial walls is called blood pressure. A healthcare professional will place a blood pressure cuff around your arm that tightens initially and then loosens up to measure your blood pressure.

A blood pressure reading usually consists of two numbers like 110/70 and is measured in mm/Hg.

What do blood pressure numbers mean

  • The first number tells you about systolic pressure, which is the pressure exerted by the blood against the arterial walls when the heart beats.
  • The second number tells you about the diastolic pressure i.e., the pressure exerted by blood on the artery walls while the heart relaxes in between beats.

When is your blood pressure normal

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), your blood pressure is:

  • Normal when it is up to or less than 120/80 mm Hg.
  • Elevated when the systolic reading is consistently within 120-129 and diastolic is less than 80 mm Hg.
  • Hypertension Stage 1 is when you repeatedly have 130-139 mm Hg as systolic reading or 80-89 mm Hg as diastolic.
  • Hypertension Stage 2 is when you show a recurrent blood pressure of 140/90 mm Hg or more.
  • A hypertension crisis is when your readings exceed 180/120 mm Hg suddenly. This is when you need immediate medical attention.

Why is high blood pressure bad for your heart

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, puts an individual at an increased risk of developing heart disease or stroke. Let us understand why it happens.

When the blood pressure is high, the delicate walls of the arteries get damaged. These damaged parts are more susceptible to plaque (deposits of cholesterol and fatty substances) buildup that narrows the blood vessels, thus reducing blood flow.

Symptoms of heart disease

As the plaque deposits increase, further narrowing of the blood vessels occurs. This results in a spike in blood pressure. According to the CDC, 7 out of 10 individuals who have undergone their first heart attack were hypertensive.

Studies even claim that the risk of death due to ischemic heart disease and stroke is two times higher with every 20 mm Hg systolic or 10 mm Hg diastolic pressure increase in individuals aged between 40 and 89 years. Therefore, heart disease is strongly linked to high blood pressure.

Blood cholesterol

Cholesterol is made by the liver and obtained from dairy and meat. It is found in almost every cell of our body. Cholesterol is essential for various body functions like bile production in the liver and the production of sex hormones.

But anything in excess is harmful to health. So, too much cholesterol is detrimental to heart health. Lipid profile is a blood test used to measure your cholesterol levels.

What do cholesterol numbers mean

Here are the different types of readings and their normal ranges that you will find in your lipid profile:

  • LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol is bad cholesterol and is the main reason for plaque buildup in blood vessels. A healthy level of LDL is below 100 mg/dl.
  • HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol is the good cholesterol that helps clear the cholesterol from the blood vessels. The recommended level of HDL is 40 mg/dl or higher.
  • Total cholesterol is the total amount of cholesterol in your blood, including HDL and LDL. It should be between 125 to 200 mg/dl.
  • Triglycerides: Though not cholesterol, triglyceride level is included in the lipid profile. It is another form of fat in your body that can increase your risk of heart disease. The normal level is below 150 mg/dl.

How does high cholesterol levels affect your heart

When there is excess cholesterol, it accumulates in the walls of your arteries, forming plaque. The plaque buildup hardens and narrows the arteries in due course of time.

This reduces the blood flow to the heart. At times, the plaque may rupture and trigger thrombus formation inside arteries. As the thrombus grows, it may completely cut off blood supply to a portion of the heart or brain, and you may end up with a heart attack or cerebral stroke.

When should you worry about your LDL?

If your LDL levels cross 160 mg/dl, you should contact your healthcare provider as it is considered high. An LDL level of 190 mg/dl and above is considered dangerously high.

What is an Optimal Cholesterol Ratio?

The cholesterol ratio is calculated by dividing the total cholesterol by the HDL level. The optimal cholesterol ratio is 3.5, and it is recommended to keep the cholesterol ratio within 5.10

How much cholesterol is recommended daily

According to the AHA, 300 mg is the recommended daily cholesterol intake through diet in healthy individuals.

How often should you check your cholesterol

You should get your cholesterol levels tested:

  • Once every 5 years, if you are 20 years or above and are at a low risk of heart disease
  • More than once every 5 years if you already portray cardiovascular disease risk factors

Tips to lower blood pressure and cholesterol

If your tests show that your cholesterol levels and blood pressure are high, you should bring about a few modifications to your diet and lifestyle.

Healthy weight: One of your major goals should be maintaining a healthy body weight. Not only does it make you feel good about yourself, but it also helps you prevent diseases like those of the heart and chronic conditions like diabetes.

Cut the salt: According to AHA, the recommended quantity of sodium that you can have in a day should be less than 1500 mg. The best way to limit a sodium-rich diet is by reducing the intake of canned or processed food and limiting the consumption of smoked or grilled food.

Eat whole grains: Whole grains like brown rice and oatmeal are healthier options as these foods help lower blood pressure & cholesterol. As they are rich sources of fiber, they keep you satiated for a longer time. Hence, they are recommended for maintaining your weight within a normal range.

Maintain healthy body weight

Eat potassium-rich foods: A diet high in potassium can help reduce your bad cholesterol (LDL) and hypertension. Fruits like apricots, bananas, avocados, and vegetables like spinach and tomatoes can make your diet potassium-rich. You can also include low-fat dairy and baked fish and chicken in your diet.

Replace saturated fats with monounsaturated fats: Fried foods, red meat, and full-fat milk are rich in saturated fats. Replacing them with monounsaturated fats like olive oil can lower your risk of heart disease.

Physical activity: You can also add 30 to 60 minutes of exercise like walking, running, or dancing to your daily routine. Exercise keeps you in good shape, preserves your heart functions, and maintains blood pressure and cholesterol levels within the normal range.

If your blood pressure and cholesterol levels are significantly high, consult your physician immediately. Prompt medical treatment is necessary in these cases as dietary and lifestyle modifications may not suffice.

Conclusion

Your heart health has a deep connection with your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. High blood pressure and cholesterol can put you at a higher risk of developing heart disease.

The normal blood pressure range is 120/80 mm Hg, and consistent readings of 180/120 mm Hg need immediate medical attention. Yet, an excess of it can be detrimental to your heart and overall health. You should learn which blood lipid levels are optimal for heart health and strive to maintain them within the normal range. Having a healthy diet comprising plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and engaging in at least half an hour of physical exercise every day can help you lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, keeping your heart healthy.

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Reshma Pathare

Reshma Kulkarni-Pathare has been a self-employed media professional since 1999. Starting off as a Freelance Journalist for Times of India Thane Plus, Reshma went onto write for more than 45 national and international publications including Times of India, New Woman, Femina, Indian Express, The Hindu, BBC Good Homes and many more. While her forte has been lifestyle writing, she is equally proficient in writing health articles. Her health articles have been published in Health International (Dubai), New Woman, Femina, and Mother & Baby.

Apart from being a journalist, Reshma also works as a copy-editor for self-publishing houses and academic journals.

She is an award-winning bi-lingual translator with more than 12 books published in her name.

She has been a Visiting Faculty Member for post-graduate department of mass media at MET College (Mumbai) and Welingkar WeSchool (Mumbai).

She has worked as a Consumer Marketing Insights Researcher for global organizations like CEB Iconoculture (USA) and Gartner (USA).

Consolidating her multifarious skills in the media, in 2021, Reshma launched her own boutique media agency called Talking Turkey Communications, which specializes in content writing, editing, and translation.

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