Understanding High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure (Hypertension) is a common condition in which the long-term force of the blood against your artery walls is high enough that it may eventually cause health problems, such as heart disease.

Blood pressure is determined both by the amount of blood the heart pumps and the amount of resistance to blood flow in the arteries. The more blood the heart pumps and the narrower the arteries, the higher the blood pressure.

One can have high blood pressure (hypertension) for years without any symptoms. Even without symptoms, damage to blood vessels and the heart continues and can be detected. Uncontrolled high blood pressure increases the risk of serious health problems, including heart attack and stroke. High blood pressure generally develops over many years, and it affects nearly everyone eventually. Fortunately, high blood pressure can be easily detected.


Most people with high blood pressure have no signs or symptoms, even if blood pressure readings reach dangerously high levels. A few people with high blood pressure may have headaches, shortness of breath or nosebleeds, but these signs and symptoms aren’t specific and usually don’t occur until high blood pressure has reached a severe or life-threatening stage.

What Causes High Blood Pressure

There are two types of high blood pressure.

  1. Primary (essential) hypertension :
    For most adults, there’s no identifiable cause of high blood pressure. This type of high blood pressure, called primary (essential) hypertension, tends to develop gradually over many years.
  2. Secondary hypertension : Some people have high blood pressure caused by an underlying condition. This type of high blood pressure, called secondary hypertension, tends to appear suddenly and cause higher blood pressure than does primary hypertension. Various conditions and medications can lead to secondary hypertension, including:
  •  Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Kidney problems
  • Adrenal gland tumors
  •  Thyroid problems
  • Certain defects you’re born with (congenital) in blood vessels
  • Certain medications, such as birth control pills, cold remedies, decongestants, over-the-counter pain relievers and some prescription drugs
  •  Illegal drugs, such as cocaine and amphetamines

Risk factors

High blood pressure has many risk factors, including:

  • Age. The risk of high blood pressure increases as age increases. Until about age 64, high blood pressure is more common in men. Women are more likely to develop high blood pressure after age 65.
  • Race. High blood pressure is particularly common among people of African heritage, often developing at an earlier age than it does in whites. Serious complications, such as stroke, heart attack and kidney failure, also are more common in people of African heritage.
  • Family history. High blood pressure tends to run in families.
  • Being overweight or obese. The more the weight the more blood need to supply oxygen and nutrients to the tissues. As the volume of blood circulated through the blood vessels increases, so does the pressure on the artery walls.
  • Not being physically active. People who are inactive tend to have higher heart rates. The higher the heart rate, the harder the heart must work with each contraction and the stronger the force on the arteries. Lack of physical activity also increases the risk of being overweight.
  • Using tobacco. Not only does smoking or chewing tobacco immediately raise the blood pressure temporarily, but the chemicals in tobacco can damage the lining of the artery walls. This can cause the arteries to narrow and increase the risk of heart disease. Secondhand smoke also can increase the heart disease risk.
  •  Too much salt (sodium) in the diet. Too much sodium in the diet can cause the body to retain fluid, which increases blood pressure.
  • Too little potassium in the diet. Potassium helps balance the amount of sodium in the cells. If their is not enough potassium in the diet or retain enough potassium, they may be too much sodium in the blood.
  • Drinking too much alcohol. Over time, heavy drinking can damage the heart. Having more than one drink a day for women and more than two drinks a day for men may affect the blood pressure. If drinking alcohol, do so in moderation. For healthy adults, that means up to one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men. One drink equals 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor.
  • Stress. High levels of stress can lead to a temporary increase in blood pressure. If trying to relax by eating more, using tobacco or drinking alcohol, it may end up increasing problems with high blood pressure.
  •  Certain chronic conditions. Certain chronic conditions also may increase the risk of high blood pressure, such as kidney disease, diabetes and sleep apnea.

Lifestyle and Home Remedies

three women kneeling on floor

Lifestyle changes can help you control and prevent high blood pressure, even if you’re taking blood pressure medication. Here’s what you can do:

Eat healthy foods – Eat a heart-healthy diet. Try the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet, which emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, poultry, fish and low-fat dairy foods. Get plenty of potassium, which can help prevent and control high blood pressure. Eat less saturated fat and trans fat.

Decrease the salt in your diet – Aim to limit sodium to less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) a day or less. However, a lower sodium intake — 1,500 mg a day or less — is ideal for most adults. While you can reduce the amount of salt you eat by putting down the saltshaker, you generally should also pay attention to the amount of salt that’s in the processed foods you eat, such as canned soups or frozen dinners.

Maintain a healthy weight – Keeping a healthy weight, or losing weight if you’re overweight or obese, can help you control your high blood pressure and lower your risk of related health problems. In general, you may reduce your blood pressure by about 1 mm Hg with each kilogram (about 2.2 pounds) of weight you lose.

Increase physical activity – Regular physical activity can help lower your blood pressure, manage stress, reduce your risk of several health problems and keep your weight under control. Aim for at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic activity, or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity. For example, try brisk walking for about 30 minutes most days of the week. Or try interval training, in which you alternate short bursts of intense activity with short recovery periods of lighter activity. Aim to do muscle-strengthening exercises at least two days a week.

Limit alcohol – Even if healthy, alcohol can raise the blood pressure. If the choose to drink alcohol, do so in moderation. For healthy adults, that means up to one drink a day for women, and up to two drinks a day for men. One drink equals 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor.

Don’t smoke – Tobacco can injure blood vessel walls and speed up the process of buildup of plaque in the arteries.

Manage stress – Reduce stress as much as possible. Practice healthy coping techniques, such as muscle relaxation, deep breathing or meditation. Getting regular physical activity and plenty of sleep can help, too.

Monitor your blood pressure at home – Home blood pressure monitoring can help keep closer tabs on the blood pressure, show if medication is working.  Home blood pressure monitoring is not a substitute for visits to doctor, and home blood pressure monitors may have some limitations. Even if getting normal readings, don’t stop or change medications or alter the diet without talking to a doctor first. If the blood pressure is under control, check with a doctor about how often the need to check it.

Control blood pressure during pregnancy – If a woman with high blood pressure, discuss with a doctor how to control the blood pressure during pregnancy.

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