Yo-Yo Blood Pressure and Stroke Risk

According to new findings from a British study released at the annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology in Atlanta in March, fluctuations in blood pressure levels over time can be a key indicator of increased stroke risk.   These findings confirm similar results from earlier studies.

Researchers followed the health of more than 19,000 patients taking either a beta-blocker or a calcium channel blocker drug to treat their high blood pressure and found that patients who were in the highest ten percent in terms of the number of variations in blood pressure levels between doctor visits had four times the risk of having a stroke compared to patients with the least number of swings in their blood pressure readings.

The study also found that patients on the calcium channel blockers had a 22 percent lower risk of having a stroke compared to those patients taking beta-blockers. The differences in the risk, said the researchers, appeared to be the result of the number of variations in blood pressure levels.

In another British study published in The Lancet and The Lancet Neurology, researchers found that patients with the greatest variation in their systolic (top number) blood pressure (the higher of the 120/80 readings) over seven visits to their doctor, were six times more likely to have a major stroke than those with regularly high blood pressure. And patients with the highest blood pressure readings were 15 times more likely to have a stroke.

The American Heart Association recommends that everyone with high blood pressure check their readings at home on a regular basis, since having readings taken at a doctor's office every few months may not be accurate enough to determine heart disease or stroke risk.

High blood pressure can be especially dangerous because oftentimes there are no warning signs or symptoms of the problem and once you develop high blood pressure, it usually lasts for the rest of your life. If you suffer from high blood pressure, talk to your doctor about the best course of treatment for you. Making some lifestyle changes can also help prevent high blood pressure, including:

  • Eating a diet high in fruits, vegetables and low- or nonfat dairy products; restricting salt intake; and limiting alcohol
  • Being physically active for 30 minutes a day, most days of the week
  • Quitting smoking
  • Maintaining a healthy weight