View All Articles

Blood Pressure Patterns May Predict Stroke Risk

February 07, 2017

About 1 in 3 American adults have high blood pressure, a condition that elevates their risk for stroke.

Now, a new study has shed more light on how blood pressure patterns play a role in predicting stroke risk. During the study, researchers at Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands reviewed 20 years of data on systolic blood pressure, the top number in a blood pressure reading that measures the amount of pressure in the arteries when the heart muscles contract. The study included 6,745 participants between the ages of 55 and 106, and researchers conducted five follow-up exams over the 20-year period.

They found that study participants whose systolic blood pressure sharply increased during middle age and those whose pressure decreased after age 65 had the highest risk of stroke and likelihood of death from conditions related to blood pressure.

Study participants who had somewhat high blood pressure had the lowest risk of death from heart failure, heart attack or kidney disease, but the highest likelihood of experiencing stroke compared to all other groups in the study.

Those whose had normal blood pressure that slowly increased over time had the lowest health risks among all groups. Their risk of stroke was lower, as well as their risk of death.

During the study, 1,000 participants experienced a stroke, with blood pressure patterns playing a significant role in the risk of death due to stroke, heart attack, heart failure and other diseases.

The study’s researchers say blood pressure patterns — or how a person’s blood pressure changes over time — has a significant impact on predicting stroke risk. These patterns can be more indicative of stroke risk than blood pressure readings at a specific moment in time.

Researchers identified four blood pressure patterns. Normal blood pressure in middle age that sharply rose to a very high level over time; moderately high blood pressure in middle age that remained steady; high blood pressure in middle age that decreased after age 65; and a gradual increase in middle age to high blood pressure, which was the most common pattern researchers found.

Several factors lead to high blood pressure, including smoking, obesity, high sodium intake, stress, advancing age and genetics. The study didn’t deeply delve into what drove blood pressure changes over time, but it’s likely that age had an impact, since those in the highest risk group whose blood pressure dropped after age 65 continued to have a high stroke risk up until age 80.

This study shows that regular blood pressure checks may help with preventative care efforts. If we see that a patient’s blood pressure steeply increases beginning at middle age or drops after age 65, we can take steps to reduce their risk, especially if they already exhibit one of the previous risk factors I mentioned.

Stroke is the third leading cause of death and the leading cause of serious long-term disability in the country. The study is a good starting point to help us better understand the multitude of factors that elevate stroke risk, but more research needs to be done in different segments of the population to better grasp the role the blood pressure patterns play. More than 795,000 people experience a stroke every year, but if we find more early indicators of stroke we eventually can lower these numbers and save more lives.