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High Blood Pressure (Hypertension): Types, Causes, Symptoms, and More

More than three million cases of high blood pressure are diagnosed every year in the United States. High blood pressure is also known as hypertension. Hypertension is most common in older adults, but it can happen at any age. For those 60 years and older, high blood pressure accounts for 65 percent of that population (1). Around half of Americans have high blood pressure, and many of them do not know they have it.

What is High Blood Pressure or Hypertension?

High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is blood pressure that is higher than normal and occurs when the force of blood pushing against artery walls is too high consistently. This increases the chances of exposure to chronic conditions (2). These chronic conditions usually can include heart disease and stroke.

If blood pressure reaches over 140/90, that is high blood pressure or hypertensive reading. Blood pressure that is 180/120 or higher is considered severe high blood pressure. Consistent high readings of hypertension become dangerous and must be managed by a doctor or healthcare professional. Untreated high blood pressure leaves the risk of developing common chronic health conditions like heart disease more available (3).

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death in the world among all other chronic health conditions. And, hypertension is the leading risk factor for CVD. There is also some debate about examining the two different numbers of blood pressure. Those are called diastolic and systolic. Diastolic determines the pressure between heartbeats when the heart fills with blood. Systolic is when ventricles (two main chambers of the heart) move blood out of the heart. Systolic blood pressure alone may be a powerful predictor when looking at the risk of CVD and even renal disease (4) (5).

There may be unlikely links to high blood pressure and other diseases as well. The more you know about this common condition, the better off you will be. Some research suggests those who have high blood pressure mid-life may have a significantly higher risk of developing dementia later down the road. It is never too early to start taking action to combat high blood pressure in your life. More research is necessary to determine if certain medications may be effective at diminishing this risk (6).

Types of High blood pressure

  • Primary hypertension: This type of high blood pressure develops gradually over a long period of time. It’s also the most common type and usually develops when you get older.
  • Secondary hypertension: It appears faster and is more fatal than primary hypertension. It is caused by various medications and conditions. They include:
    • Kidney disorders
    • Thyroid problems
    • Blood vessels defect
    • Obstructive sleep apnea
    • Certain medications- birth control pills, pain relievers, and decongestants.
    • Alcohol abuse
    • Use of hard drugs, such as cocaine

High blood pressure is a growing and common condition, especially among an aging population. There are many ways to prevent high blood pressure, mostly concerning diet and lifestyle factors. Read on to learn the causes, symptoms, risk factors, preventions, and more.

Causes/Risk Factors of High Blood Pressure:

There may be many causes or risk factors of high blood pressure, and they can be different depending on age, lifestyle, and much more.

Lifestyle Habits

Lifestyle habits are some of the most common reasons someone can develop high blood pressure. Lifestyle habits, such as eating and exercise, may significantly affect developing common chronic conditions like high blood pressure later in life. Many lifestyle habits can prevent and affect the chances of developing hypertension or high blood pressure.

The most common lifestyle habits to be aware of include:

  • Eating unhealthy foods, especially those too high in salt, is one of the main common lifestyle habits that increase hypertension risks. It is also vital to get enough potassium (7)
  • Smoking or using illicit drugs may increase your chances of developing hypertension (Some include methamphetamine, cocaine, and bath salts) (8)
  • Sleep issues or disturbances (Not getting enough quality sleep can affect the chances of this common disease)
  • Consuming too much caffeine or alcohol
  • Not getting enough movement or physical activity
  • There is a possible increased risk among those who have a history of diabetes, chronic kidney disease, or metabolic syndrome
  • Those who are sensitive to salt in their diet overall may also be at an increased risk (9)

Everyone is physiologically different, so lifestyle factors can affect one person differently from another. For the most part, all of these habits may increase the chances of developing high blood pressure.

Certain Medications and Medical Conditions

Some medications may increase the chances of developing high blood pressure or worsening hypertension. These medications can include hormonal birth control (10), non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs like ibuprofen or aspirin (11), decongestants, and antidepressants (12).

Medical conditions can also be a concern for those who suffer from hypertension or those who have a family history of high blood pressure. That is because certain medical conditions may change the way the body controls hormones, sodium, and even fluids in the bloodstream. These medical conditions include, but are not limited to:

  • Sleep apnea
  • Thyroid disease or problems
  • Obesity or overweight
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Some Tumors

Ethnicity and Economic Factors

Demographics are a major contributor to developing high blood pressure or hypertension. Hypertension is more common in those of Hispanics or African American descent than in white people, for example. African Americans typically develop high blood pressure at higher rates than any other race and earlier in life. That could be due to levels of discrimination, and medications not working as well. African American men and women also have a higher chance of being hospitalized for high blood pressure. That may be because of health disparities involving diabetes and obesity.

Women, especially African Americans tend to get more cases of hypertension as well. Women going through pregnancy are also more likely to develop preeclampsia or hypertension, too. That can also cause swelling of the hands and feet.

When becoming pregnant, women should speak with their doctor about getting their blood pressure regulated before giving birth, and ideally before getting pregnant. Some things that can be done to help decrease this occurrence are reducing stress and lowering salt in your diet.

Other social and economic factors also may contribute to higher rates of hypertension. These can include where a person lives, education, or income level. Also, the type of job that you have may contribute to the risk of high blood pressure. That can mean working later or earlier shifts that may interrupt normal sleep patterns. There is one more factor that may explain some cases of hypertension that is a bit more surprising. A child who experiences harm, danger, or some type of trauma may be at a higher risk of developing hypertension. This may also be due to sleep disturbances that may affect high blood pressure (13).

Genetics, Age, and Sex

Genetics, age, and sex are some other powerful links in developing high blood pressure. With age, blood vessels naturally begin to thicken over time. That’s why it is typically more common to develop high blood pressure at an older age. However, there is an evergrowing increased risk of obesity among children and teens in the United States so that figure may be changing. The risk of hypertension is increasing among younger people because of the increase of an overweight population.

A family history of hypertension is another risk factor or potential cause as well. It is common for high blood pressure to run in families, as there are many gene links within a hardening of the blood vessels. There may also be a sensitivity to salt in a family’s history, even if there are no present DNA gene mutations that would inhibit hypertension.

Sex is another essential factor to be aware of when it comes to hypertension. Men are more likely than women to develop high blood pressure, mostly in middle age. However, it is actually more common in women than men when they reach an older age. Furthermore, if women develop high blood pressure during pregnancy, they are much more likely to have it later on as well.

There are many ways to prevent high blood pressure, even if there is a genetic component at times.

Symptoms of High Blood Pressure

When it comes to high blood pressure, most of the time, there are no symptoms. Although some people show signs of headaches, nose bleeds, and shortness of breath, most people show no signs even at the most chronic stages of hypertension. It is often called the silent disease or killer. And, there are some risk factors like the ones mentioned above that can increase the odds of developing hypertension. It’s vital to be aware of these and also to understand that hypertension can sneak up with years of eating poorly, a lack of exercise, and other poor lifestyle habits. Because it usually does not have any obvious symptoms for most, it is essential to get your blood pressure numbers checked regularly. Typical doctor visits will measure your blood pressure at most appointments.

If you do not manage high blood pressure, it can lead to serious illnesses or diseases. Some of these may include, eye damage, heart failure or disease, chronic kidney disease, stroke, aneurysm, and even vascular dementia (the most common type of dementia). Be sure to check your blood pressure regularly with a doctor or you can check it at home as well.

Controlling High Blood Pressure

Many doctors will often recommend developing a healthy diet plan to help manage your hypertension, depending on your unique circumstances, Many recommend the DASH diet, which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. That diet includes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, beans, nuts, seeds, legumes, fish, and poultry for the most part. The DASH diet strictly limits diets high in saturated fats like full-fat dairy, fatty meat, and certain oils. Oils like coconut and palm oils are high in saturated fats so limiting them is often a good idea if high blood pressure runs in your family or if you already have hypertension. Another area to take note of is beverages and sweets. It’s essential to limit sugary drinks and desserts when following the DASH diet. Starting a heart-healthy diet plan can help avoid complications that often arise with advanced hypertension. The DASH diet may help to lower blood pressure and LDL (bad cholesterol) levels.

Another way to help control blood pressure levels is to maintain an active and fit lifestyle. Losing weight is a crucial component of keeping your blood pressure levels healthy. The only way to ensure you can lose weight and keep your heart healthy is by eating well and exercising often. Your daily calorie needs will also differ based on your activity levels. The American Heart Association (AMA) recommends exercising at least 150 minutes each week of moderate activity. It is also recommended to have 70 minutes of that time dedicated to high-intensity exercise.

Remember to maintain a healthy lifestyle as best as possible, because the best way to defend against hypertension is to prevent it in the first place.

Treatment of High Blood Pressure

The largest treatment method for high blood pressure is following a healthy diet. Salt can be a major contributor to hypertension, especially when the person is sensitive to salt in general. There are many other treatment methods as well. These include medicines and lifestyle changes. Doctors will likely develop a treatment plan unique to you and your health history. That may include specific exercise plans and food recommendations (foods that help lower blood pressure), along with potential medicine that can be of use to you.

A doctor may also need to evaluate your risk of complications based on your age, family history, and unique circumstances. That can help to prevent further complications later in life. It can be helpful to have a full support team as you navigate the best approach for high blood pressure. That may include a doctor, nutritionist, pharmacist, and other specialists depending on your case. Those who help to reduce stress may also be beneficial if that is a bother in your life. Chronic stress may elevate blood pressure, so it is essential to maintain healthy stress levels and to understand how to manage chronic stress.

Some common treatment options that involve lifestyle change include:

  • Quit smoking
  • Limit too much alcohol or avoid it altogether
  • Find your healthy weight and maintain it
  • Manage stress. Chronic stress can be a danger
  • Get quality sleep every night
  • Choose heart-healthy foods like those mentioned in the DASH diet above
  • Reduce salt consumption, especially if you have a sensitivity to salt

Some ways you can limit salt in your diet include adding fresh herbs and spices to meals instead of salt or with just a pinch of salt. You can also limit processed foods or avoid them overall. Processed foods are extremely high in sodium, making their salt levels too high for those with hypertension. Even some healthy foods can have high levels of sodium like the ones mentioned in our list of foods high in sodium. Always try to cook meals at home so you know exactly how much salt is going into your food. Food preparation, such as meal prepping, is a crucial element of living a healthy lifestyle. Overhauling your lifestyle can be challenging. There are always support networks to help you achieve your goals little by little. Implementing one new thing each day counts towards improving your health overall.

Other medical conditions may cause high blood pressure as well. If that is the case, a doctor may advise treating that condition before managing high blood pressure with medication. Oftentimes, a doctor will evaluate your risk factor for having a heart attack or stroke in the next 10 years by using a risk calculator.

Many medications can potentially help those with high blood pressure. Everyone is unique in what they need depending on their case, so while some medications may work for one person, they may harm someone else.

The most common medications used for treating high blood pressure include beta-blockers, which help to keep the heart beating slower. Then, your heart pumps less blood through the blood vessels. Calcium channel blockers are another popular medicine for hypertension. Those prevent calcium from moving to the heart muscles and blood vessels, letting them relax. Diuretics are another type of medicine, which removes extra salt (sodium) and water from the body. By reducing fluid in the blood, diuretics may be successful when used in combination with other hypertension medications. Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors or Angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs) are also sometimes used to make sure the blood vessels do not narrow too much.

There are also some natural ways to lower blood pressure that can help you deal with it effectively.


High blood pressure or hypertension is one of the most frequently occurring diseases in the United States. The disease affects nearly half of the American population. A large driver of high blood pressure is based on diet and lifestyle behaviors, but other factors can increase the risk or make hypertension worse. These can include genetics, medications, ethnicity, age, and much more.

Symptoms are usually non-existent when it comes to determining high blood pressure. There are only a few ways to know for sure. One way is to regularly check your numbers. Another is to know your family history and pay close attention to lifestyle factors that can increase your risk. Lastly, if you have a complication like heart disease or stroke, that can be an indicator of high blood pressure.

Always be sure to check or consult with a trusted doctor to know your numbers and find the best treatment method for you. Following a healthy diet and lifestyle is the best defense against developing high blood pressure.