Cholesterol and High Blood Pressure

Nearly one in three U.S. adults has high blood pressure, but because there are no symptoms, nearly one-third of these people don’t know they have it. This is why high blood pressure is often called the “silent killer.” The only way to tell if you have high blood pressure is to have your blood pressure checked. It’s important to monitor your blood pressure because uncontrolled high blood pressure can lead to many diseases.

How Do I Know If I Have High Blood Pressure?
Many people have this disease for years without knowing it. Having high blood pressure (hypertension) doesn’t mean you’re tense, nervous or hyperactive. You can be a calm, relaxed person and still have hypertension. The only way to find out if you have this disease is to have your blood pressure checked! A blood pressure test is quick and painless. It can be done in a doctor’s office, health clinic, school, or at a health fair.

A single high reading doesn’t mean you have high blood pressure, but it’s a sign that you need to watch your blood pressure carefully. If your blood pressure is normal, get it checked at least every two years. If you have prehypertension, or a family history of high blood pressure, you’re at higher risk. Your doctor will tell you how often to have it checked.

How is blood pressure checked?
Blood pressure is measured using a medical instrument called a sphygmomanometer. The person taking the blood pressure records two measurements. The higher (systolic) number represents the pressure while the heart is beating. The lower (diastolic) number represents the pressure when the heart is resting between beats.

The systolic pressure is always stated first and the diastolic pressure second. For example: 118/76 (118 over 76); systolic = 118, diastolic = 76.
Your heart beats about 60 to 80 times a minute under normal conditions. Your blood pressure rises with each heartbeat and falls when your heart relaxes between beats. Your blood pressure can change from minute to minute, but it should normally be less than 120/80 for an adult. Blood pressure that stays between 120–139/80–89 is considered prehypertension and above this level (140/90 or higher) is considered high (hypertension). Your doctor may take several readings over time before deciding whether your blood pressure is high.

Is high blood pressure really dangerous?
Uncontrolled high blood pressure can injure or kill you. Because high blood pressure has no symptoms, you may not be aware that it’s damaging your arteries, heart and other organs.

Possible health consequences that can happen over time when high blood pressure is left untreated include: 

  • Damage to the heart and coronary arteries, including heart attack, heart disease, congestive heart failure, aortic dissection and atherosclerosis (fatty buildups in the arteries that cause them to harden)
  • Stroke
  • Kidney damage
  • Vision loss
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Memory loss
  • Fluid in the lungs
  • Angina

Individuals whose blood pressure is higher than 140/90 (140 systolic or above OR 90 diastolic or above) often become patients treated for serious cardiovascular problems.

It may surprise you to know that cholesterol itself isn’t bad. In fact, cholesterol is just one of the many substances created and used by our bodies to keep us healthy.

There are two types of cholesterol: “good” and “bad.” It’s important to understand the difference, and to know the levels of “good” and “bad” cholesterol in your blood. Too much of one type — or not enough of another — can put you at risk for coronary heart disease, heart attack or stroke.

Cholesterol comes from two sources: your body and food. Your liver and other cells in your body make about 75 percent of blood cholesterol. The other 25 percent comes from the foods you eat. Cholesterol is only found in animal products.

A cholesterol screening measures your level of HDL and LDL. HDL is the “good” cholesterol which helps keep the LDL (bad) cholesterol from getting lodged in your artery walls. A healthy level of HDL may also protect against heart attack and stroke, while low levels of HDL (less than 40 mg/dL for men and less than 50 mg/dL for women) have been shown to increase the risk of heart disease.

If you need to increase your HDL to reach your goals, studies show that regular physical activity can help your body produce more HDLs. Reducing trans fats and eating a balanced, nutritious diet is another way to increase HDL. If these measures are not enough to increase your HDL to goal, your healthcare practitioner may prescribe a medication specifically to increase your HDLs.

LDL cholesterol is the “bad” cholesterol. When too much of it circulates in the blood, it can clog arteries, increasing your risk of heart attack and stroke. LDL cholesterol is produced naturally by the body, but many people inherit genes from their mother, father or even grandparents that cause them to make too much. Eating saturated fat, trans fats and dietary cholesterol also increases how much you have. If high blood cholesterol runs in your family, lifestyle modifications may not be enough to help lower your LDL blood cholesterol and you may need medication.

Stroke is a disease that affects the arteries leading to and within the brain. It is the No. 3 cause of death in the U.S., behind diseases of the heart and cancer.

A stroke occurs when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain is either blocked by a clot or bursts. When that happens, part of the brain cannot get the blood (and oxygen) it needs, so it starts to die.

What are the effects of a stroke?
The brain is an extremely complex organ that controls various body functions. If a stroke occurs and blood flow can’t reach the region that controls a particular body function, that part of the body won’t work as it should. If you experience symptoms of a stroke, call 9-1-1 immediately.

Warning Signs of Stroke:

  • Sudden weakness or numbness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body 
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
  • Sudden, severe headache with no known cause

Learn to recognize a stroke. Time lost is brain lost!

High cholesterol, high blood pressure and being overweight or obese are major risk factors for heart disease and stroke. You should be tested regularly by your health care provider to know if you have high blood cholesterol or high blood pressure. That’s because elevated cholesterol and blood pressure have no warning signs. Talk to your doctor about a healthy weight for you, and manage your blood pressure, blood cholesterol levels and weight.


  • Eat a nutritious, well-balanced diet that is low in saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol, and includes lots of fruits, vegetables and fat-free dairy products.
  • Eat no more than 6 ounces per day of cooked meat, seafood or poultry.
  • Choose lean cuts of meat, trim all visible fat and throw away the fat that cooks out of the meat.
  • Substitute meatless or “low-meat” main dishes for regular entrees.
  • Use a minimal amount of fats and oils, usually no more than 2 to 3 servings a day, depending on your caloric needs.
  • Use less salt. Limit the amount of salty foods you eat.
  • Limit the amount of alcohol you drink. If you’re a woman, don’t drink more than one drink a day. If you’re a man, have no more than two drinks a day.
  • Do at least 30 minutes of physical activity on most or all days of the week.
  • Take your medicines as prescribed.


  • Even modest weight loss (5 to 10 percent of your body weight) can help lower your risk for heart disease and stroke. Check with your doctor before starting a program.
  • Reduce the number of calories you eat. Excess calories add excess weight.
  • Do at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on most (preferably all) days of the week.
  • Building up to one hour or more of daily moderate-intensity physical activity can have a significant effect on weight control.

The content on this site is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice.