Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. High blood pressure and high blood cholesterol are among the most significant risk factors for developing heart disease. When left untreated, both high cholesterol and high blood pressure can also increase your risk for heart attack and stroke.
High cholesterol and high blood pressure are related. When a person has high cholesterol, it can be more difficult for their heart to pump blood efficiently through their arteries and veins, which can increase blood pressure. Additional studies conducted in men and women show that having high cholesterol may also increase your risk of developing high blood pressure later on in life.
In this article, I’ll explain the differences between high cholesterol and hypertension, as well as how the two are related.
Understanding High Cholesterol vs High Blood Pressure
High cholesterol is a condition in which the levels of cholesterol in your blood are higher than normal. Cholesterol is an organic molecule made and stored by the body. Though most of the cholesterol in our blood is made by our body, we also ingest cholesterol from the foods that we eat. Cholesterol is essential for living, but having high cholesterol can increase the risk of several serious medical conditions, including heart disease.
Blood pressure is a measurement of the force exerted on the walls of your arteries and blood vessels as your heart pumps blood. Having high blood pressure, or hypertension, refers to a condition in which your arteries are too narrow or stiff, making it difficult for your heart to pump blood through the body.
Does High Cholesterol Cause High Blood Pressure?
Research suggests that high cholesterol and high blood pressure are connected. Having high cholesterol increases the risk of having narrowed arteries, which can make it difficult for the heart to pump blood efficiently and lead to high blood pressure.
Studies also show that non-hypertensive individuals with high cholesterol are more likely to develop high blood pressure later in life and that eating a diet high in cholesterol can increase systolic blood pressure. Another study suggests that people with high cholesterol may experience higher blood pressure levels during exercise.
Other Health Risks
Heart disease (which includes heart attack, heart failure and stroke) is the primary health risk associated with high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
Additional risks of uncontrolled high cholesterol include atherosclerosis, a condition in which plaque builds up in the blood vessels in the body.
Additional risks of uncontrolled high blood pressure include:
- Kidney disease
- Eye problems
- Metabolic syndrome
- Memory problems and dementia
If you’re diagnosed with high blood pressure and/or cholesterol, your provider may recommend lifestyle changes and medication. They may also recommend some of these strategies if you’re at risk for or have a family history of high blood pressure and/or cholesterol.
Eating a diet rich in fiber, fruits and vegetables, healthy proteins, and lean meats can have a beneficial impact on cholesterol. One randomized controlled trial suggests that eating a diet restricted in carbohydrates may help to improve metabolic health markers. Eating a healthy diet can also support healthy blood pressure levels, especially a diet that is lower in sodium.
Getting regular physical activity is an excellent way to improve your overall health and can help to lower your overall cholesterol and blood pressure.
Overweight and obesity can increase the risk of high blood pressure and cholesterol. If appropriate, talk to your provider about healthy and sustainable ways to lose weight.
Smoking and drinking alcohol can also increase the risk of these conditions. Limiting alcohol intake and quitting smoking can help to lower cholesterol and blood pressure and improve your overall health.
In some cases, your provider may recommend taking medication for your high blood pressure and/or cholesterol.
Some of the medications used to lower and control cholesterol levels include:
- Bile acid sequestrants
Some of the medications used to lower and control blood pressure levels include:
- Thiazide diuretics
- Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors
- Angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs)
The Importance of Screening
Because neither high blood pressure nor high cholesterol usually cause symptoms, it’s very important to get your levels checked with a blood test, especially if you have a family history of either or heart disease.
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Frequently Asked Questions
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
A Prospective Study of Plasma Lipid Levels and Hypertension in Women. (2005.)
Dyslipidemia and the Risk of Incident Hypertension in Men. (2005.)
Effects of a low-carbohydrate diet on insulin-resistant dyslipoproteinemia—a randomized controlled feeding trial. (2021.)
Heart Disease Facts. (2022.)
High Blood Pressure and Cholesterol. (2011.)
Relationship of Dietary Cholesterol to Blood Pressure: The INTERMAP Study. (2012.)
Serum cholesterol affects blood pressure regulation. (2002.)