Why are Cholesterol and High Blood Pressure Such a Big Deal?

It’s possible to have too much of a good thing. While cholesterol helps your body function, too much of it can cause severe health issues including high blood pressure, heart disease and even stroke. Understanding the facts about both cholesterol and high blood pressure is crucial when guarding your heart.

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in all cells in the body and produced by the liver to make hormones, vitamin D and substances that help with digestion. While the human body creates just the right amount of cholesterol, most people have more in their bodies due to eating foods like meat, poultry and dairy products. Ingesting these types of foods causes your liver to produce too much cholesterol. A surplus of cholesterol can build up and eventually form plaque in the body’s arteries. These blockages in the arteries make it more difficult for oxygen-rich blood to pass through and carry nutrients to the rest of the body, causing a strain on your heart and increasing your blood pressure.

What is high blood pressure?

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NIH) reports that approximately one in three adults in the United States have high blood pressure. This condition, which is sometimes known as hypertension, occurs when your blood vessels become damaged when the heart is forced to work too hard to pump blood through your arteries. In addition, cholesterol build-up is often a culprit of high blood pressure since its plaque blocks the arteries that transport blood and oxygen.

How do cholesterol and high blood pressure affect my body?

Cholesterol and high blood pressure pose serious health threats because they directly affect one of the most important organs in the human body: your heart. Moreover, too much cholesterol in the blood can lead to heart disease, a condition in which plaque forms and blocks coronary arteries. The plaque causes your arteries to harden and narrow, allowing less blood to flow through and increasing your blood pressure. As time progresses, blood clots can form after an area of plaque ruptures and blocks blood from flowing through a critical coronary artery. This blockage can cause a heart attack. Moreover, plaque buildup in arteries that supply your brain and other body parts with blood can cause a stroke.

Healthy vs. Unhealthy Levels of Cholesterol

A blood test called a lipoprotein panel is required to determine whether or not your body’s cholesterol levels fall into the healthy range. More specifically, this panel measures:

  • The amount of LDL or “bad” cholesterol that causes plaque build-up

  • Less than 100 mg/dL is healthiest

  • More than 160 mg/dL is dangerous to your health

  • The amount of HDL or “good” cholesterol that helps rid your arteries of cholesterol

  • Less than 40 mg/dL puts you at risk of heart disease

  • More than 60 mg/dL is considered healthy and protective against heart disease

Healthy vs. Unhealthy Blood Pressure Levels

Blood pressure is recorded in ratio form. Recognizing the parts of the ratio is crucial to understanding its importance to your health. The top number of the ratio, also called the systolic, measures the pressure of the arteries when the heart beats. The bottom number of the ratio, also called the diastolic, measures the pressure in the arteries in between heartbeats.

  • A normal blood pressure consists of a systolic number less than 120 and a diastolic number less than 80

  • Systolic numbers in the range of 120-139 and diastolic numbers in the range of 80-89 are signs of prehypertension

  • Systolic numbers of 140 or higher and diastolic numbers of 90 or higher puts you in the high blood pressure category

What can I do to prevent too much cholesterol and high blood pressure?

Leading a well-balanced, healthy lifestyle is the key to healthy levels of cholesterol and blood pressure. To keep your heart healthy, you should:

  • Avoid smoking

  • Exercise regularly

  • Follow a healthy diet that is low in sodium

  • Maintain a healthy weight

Knowing your cholesterol levels and blood pressure is important for your overall health and well-being. Finding the balance in both your health and your lifestyle is key to maintaining normal levels of cholesterol and a healthy blood pressure rate.

UnityPoint Health—Methodist | Proctor is Dedicated to Heart Health

Whether or not you think you suffer from high cholesterol or high blood pressure, Peoria’s Heart Care and Vascular Services provide you with a multitude of ways to check up on your heart and transform your lifestyle into a healthier one.

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