National Consumers League


NCL Health Issues

Monitor your heart health

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High blood pressure can cause serious health issuesStroke and high blood pressure are two related health concerns, as blood pressure can put you at serious risk for a stroke. The two health problems also share many of the same risk factors. Learn how to identify the risks and treatments.

High blood pressure

Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against your artery walls. If the pressure rises and stays high over time, this is called high blood pressure or hypertension.  

If high blood pressure is not controlled, it can lead to: stroke, heart attack, kidney problems, heart failure, and eye problems. 

Who is affected?

About one out of three adults in the U.S have high blood pressure. The cause of high blood pressure is not known, but there are several factors that can increase your likelihood for having high blood pressure.

These risk factors include:

  • Family history of high blood pressure – if your parents or relatives have high blood pressure you are more likely to develop it also  
  • Advanced age – as we age we have a higher risk for high blood pressure
  • Gender – more men than women have high blood pressure up til age 45,but after age 65 more women have high blood pressure
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Poor diet, especially too much salt
  • Overweight  
  • Drinking too much alcohol

How do you know if you have high blood pressure?

There are no warning signs or symptoms for high blood pressure. The only way to know if you have high blood pressure is to have your blood pressure checked. Blood pressured is measured by placing a blood pressure cuff around your arm, pumping the cuff full of air, and listening for the flow of blood as the air lets out of the cuff. You should have your blood pressure checked about once a year.

What do the numbers mean when my blood pressure is checked?

Blood pressure is two measurements. You may hear it reported as one number over another number, such as “120 over 80.” The first number, systolic, is the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart beats. The second number, diastolic, is the pressure when your heart is relaxing between beats. 

A normal blood pressure is less than 120/80; high blood pressure is 140/90 or higher.  

How can you prevent high blood pressure?

There are certain things you can do to prevent or control high blood pressure.

  • Quit smoking
  • Maintain a healthy weight, which means losing weight if you need to
  • Exercise regularly
  • Limit salt in your diet
  • Limit alcohol

What can you do if you have high blood pressure? How is it treated?

Treatment usually starts with changes you can make to your lifestyle to help lower your blood pressure (see above). If these do not work, you may need to also take medication.


A stroke is when the blood supply to the brain is cut off. Without oxygen, brain cells die. A stroke can cause death or disability.

Types of strokes:

  • Ischemic stroke – when arteries are blocked by blood clots or gradual build up of plaque. Nearly 90% of all strokes are ischemic.
  • Hemorrhagic stroke – when a blood vessel in the brain bursts, leaking blood in to the brain.

Who is affected?

Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the United States, killing about 140,000 people each year, and the leading cause of serious, long term adult disability. Stokes can happen at any time, regardless of age, race or sex.

However, the risk of having a stroke increases as you age; more than 75 percent of all strokes happen to people age 65 and older. African Americans have higher death rates from strokes, and more women than men have strokes. There are several factors that can increase your chance of having a stroke.  

Risk factors for stroke include:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Advanced age
  • Gender (more women than men die from strokes)
  • Race (African American have a higher death rate from strokes)
  • Previous stroke, or having a family history of stroke
  • Smoking
  • Overweight
  • Drinking too much alcohol

How do you know when you are having a stroke?

Learning to know the signs or symptoms of a stroke, and getting medical attention immediately, can lower the risk of death and disability from a stroke. The five main signs of a stroke are:

  1. Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arms or legs, especially on one side of the body
  2. Sudden confusion or trouble speaking or understanding others
  3. Sudden trouble seeing in one of both eyes
  4. Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, or loss of balance or coordination
  5. Sudden severe headache with no known cause 

Often there is more than one symptom at a time.

If you think someone is having a stroke, use this test (the FAST test) for stroke symptoms:

F = Face -  Ask the person to smile.  Does one side of the face droop?
A = Arms - Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
S = Speech - Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. Does the speech sound slurred or strange?
T = Time - If you observe any of these signs, it is time to call 9-1-1 to get to the nearest hospital. 

What can you do to prevent a stroke?

There are certain things you can do to lower your risk of stroke:

Know your blood pressure. If it is high, work to lower it and keep it under control. High blood pressure is a leading cause of stroke. Also, stop smoking, limit alcohol, exercise regularly, limit salt in your diet

For more information, visit:

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC)

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ ) - Talk with Your Health Care Provider about High Blood Pressure


National Stroke Association

American Heart Association