High Blood Pressure (Hypertension) Causes and Risk Factors

High blood pressure, or also known as hypertension, is a condition in which the blood pressure in the arteries is higher than normal. Blood pressure refers to the force of blood against the walls of arteries as it is pumped throughout the body by your heart. If this pressure is too high it puts a strain on your arteries and your heart, which makes it more likely that you will develop cardiovascular disease, such as heart attack and stroke.

The only way to know whether you have high blood pressure or not is to have it measured. Normally, blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) and recorded as two figures: Systolic pressure and Diastolic pressure.

Systolic pressure is the highest pressure in the arteries when your heart pumps blood out to the body, while diastolic pressure is the pressure of the blood when your heart rests in between beats.

Blood pressure readings are expressed with the systolic number first, followed by the diastolic number. For example, a blood pressure measurement of 120/80 mm Hg means that systolic blood pressure is 120 mm Hg and diastolic pressure is 80 mm Hg. This is a normal blood pressure.

You are considered to have high blood pressure if your blood pressure readings are 140/90 or higher. High blood pressure is dangerous because it can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke which are the first and third leading cause of death worldwide. High blood pressure also can result in other conditions, such as heart failure, kidney disease, and blindness.

What Causes High Blood Pressure?

The causes of high blood pressure can be classified into two major types: Primary and Secondary.

Primary hypertension

Primary hypertension or essential hypertension is the most common form of high blood pressure, accounting for about 90-95% of all hypertension cases. It has no identifiable cause, but some medical studies have identified several factors that cause this form of hypertension. Some of the risk factors for hypertension include:

  • Being male
  • Being African-American
  • Being ages 40 and older
  • Being overweight or obesity
  • Having a family history member of high blood pressure
  • Smoking
  • Unhealthy dietary habits
  • Too much alcohol consumption
  • Excessive salt intake
  • Lack of physical activity

Secondary hypertension

Secondary hypertension is a form of high blood pressure that results from an underlying, identifiable cause. Only about 5-10% of all hypertension cases are result from secondary causes. Some of the common causes of secondary high blood pressure include:

  • Kidney disease
  • Diabetes
  • Pregnancy
  • Sleep Apnea
  • Aldosteronism (a tumor of the adrenal gland)
  • Hormonal disorders such as Cushing’s syndrome, a disorder caused by high levels of the hormone cortisol in the blood
  • Certain medications such as birth control pills and decongestants, and steroids
  • Use of cocaine, nicotine, or other stimulants such as methamphetamine can also cause high blood pressure

If you are at the risk factors mentioned above, making some simple changes to your lifestyle may help reduce your blood pressure.

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