The causes of high blood pressure are divided into two categories:
- Essential high blood pressure: This has no established cause.
- Secondary high blood pressure: There is an underlying cause.
Even though there is no identifiable cause for essential high blood pressure, there is strong evidence linking some risk factors to the likelihood of developing the condition.
Most of the causes below are risk factors for essential high blood pressure. There are also examples of secondary high blood pressure:
The older you are the higher your risk of having high blood pressure.
2) Family history
If you have close family members with hypertension, your chances of developing it are significantly higher. An international scientific study identified eight common genetic differences that may increase the risk of high blood pressure.
A study that monitored 8,801 participants over the age of 65 found that systolic and diastolic blood pressure values differed significantly across the year and according to the distribution of outdoor temperature. Blood pressure was lower when it got warmer, and rose when it got colder.
4) Ethnic background
Evidence indicates that people with African or South Asian ancestry have a higher risk of developing hypertension, compared to people with predominantly Caucasian or Amerindian (indigenous of the Americas) ancestries.
5) Obesity and overweight
Both overweight and obese people are more likely to develop high blood pressure, compared to people of normal weight.
6) Some aspects of gender
In general, high blood pressure is more common among adult men than adult women. However, after the age of 60 years both men and women are equally susceptible.
7) Physical inactivity
Lack of exercise, as well as having a sedentary lifestyle, raises the risk of hypertension.
Smoking causes the blood vessels to narrow, resulting in higher blood pressure. Smoking also reduces the blood’s oxygen content so the heart has to pump faster in order to compensate, causing a rise in blood pressure.
9) Alcohol intake
People who drink regularly have higher systolic blood pressure than people who do not, according to researchers. They found that systolic blood pressure levels are about 7 millimeters of mercury (mmHg) higher in people who drink frequently than in people who do not drink.
10) High salt intake
Researchers reported that societies where people do not eat much salt have lower blood pressures than places where people eat a lot of salt.
11) High fat diet
Many health professionals say that a diet high in fat leads to a raised high blood pressure risk. However, most dietitians stress that the problem is not how much fat is consumed, but rather what type of fats.
Fats sourced from plants such as avocados, nuts, olive oil, and omega oils are good for you. Saturated fats, which are common in animal-sourced foods, as well as trans fats, are bad for you.
12) Mental stress
Various studies have offered compelling evidence that mental stress, especially over the long term, can have a serious impact on blood pressure. One study suggested that the way that air traffic controllers handle stress can affect whether they are at risk of developing high blood pressure later in life.
People with diabetes are at a higher risk of developing hypertension. Among people with type 1 diabetes, high blood sugar is a risk factor for incident hypertension – effective and consistent blood sugar control, with insulin, reduces the long-term risk of developing hypertension.
People with type 2 diabetes are at risk of hypertension due to high blood sugar, as well as other factors, such as overweight and obesity, certain medications, and some cardiovascular diseases.
A study that followed 78,000 women for 14 years found that having psoriasis was linked to a higher risk of developing high blood pressure and diabetes. Psoriasis is an immune system condition that appears on the skin in the form of thick, red scaly patches.
Pregnant women have a higher risk of developing hypertension than women of the same age who are not pregnant. It is the most common medical problem encountered during pregnancy, complicating 2 to 3 percent of all pregnancies.
Signs and symptoms
Most people with high blood pressure will not experience any symptoms. It is often known as the “silent killer” for this reason.
However, once blood pressure reaches about 180/110 mmHg, it is considered a medical emergency known as a hypertensive crisis. At this stage, symptoms will show, including:
- blurred or double vision
- palpitations, or irregular or forceful beating of the heart
Anybody who experiences these symptoms should see their doctor immediately.
Children with high blood pressure may have the following signs and symptoms:
- blurred vision
- Bell’s palsy, or an inability to control facial muscles on one side of the face.
Newborns and very young babies with high blood pressure may experience the following signs and symptoms:
- failure to thrive
- respiratory distress
People who are diagnosed with high blood pressure should have their blood pressure checked frequently. Even if yours is normal, you should have it checked at least once every five years, and more often if you have any contributory factors.
If the hypertension is not treated or controlled the excessive pressure on the artery walls can lead to damage of the blood vessels (cardiovascular disease), as well as vital organs. The extent of damage depends on two factors; the severity of the hypertension and how long it goes on for untreated.
Below is a list of some of the possible complications of high blood pressure:
- heart attack and heart failure
- blood clots
- kidney disease
- thickened, narrow, or torn blood vessels in the eyes
- metabolic syndrome
- brain function and memory problems
Treatment for high blood pressure depends on several factors, such its severity, associated risks of developing stroke or cardiovascular, disease, etc.
Slightly elevated blood pressure
The doctor may suggest some lifestyle changes if blood pressure is only slightly elevated and the risk of developing cardiovascular disease considered to be small.
Moderately high blood pressure
If blood pressure is moderately high and the doctors believes the risk of developing cardiovascular disease during the next ten years is above 20 percent, the doctor will probably prescribe medication and advised on lifestyle changes.
If blood pressure levels are 180/110 mmHg or higher, the doctor will refer the individual to a specialist.
Changes in lifestyle can help lower high blood pressure
The following are recommended lifestyle changes that can help you lower your blood pressure. Note that you should always check with a Doctor or healthcare professional to discuss lifestyle changes before making any dramatic changes yourself.
These are some of the most common drugs for treating high blood pressure:
1) Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors
ACE inhibitors block the actions of some hormones, such as angiotensin II, that regulate blood pressure. Angiotensin II causes the arteries to constrict, and increases blood volume, resulting in increased blood pressure.
People with a history of heart disease, pregnant women or individuals with conditions that affect the blood supply to the kidneys should not take ACE inhibitors.
Doctors may order a blood test to determine whether the patient has any pre-existing kidney problems. ACE inhibitors can reduce the blood supply to the kidneys, making them less efficient, therefore regularly blood tests are required.
ACE inhibitors may have the following more common side effects, which usually go away after a few days:
- persistent dry cough that may continue
Some patients may find the side effects too unpleasant or long-lasting. In such cases doctors will switch to an angiotensin-2 receptor antagonist. Side effects are less common, but may include dizziness, headache and increased potassium levels in the blood.
2) Calcium channel blockers
Calcium channel blockers (CCBs), among other things, decrease the calcium in blood vessels. A drop in calcium relaxes the vascular smooth muscle so that it does not contract so strongly, resulting in the widening of arteries. If the arteries are wider blood pressure will drop.
Patients with a history of heart disease, liver disease, or problems with circulation should not take calcium channel blockers.
Calcium channel blockers may have the following more common side effects, which usually go away after a few days:
- redness of the skin, usually over the cheeks or neck
- swollen ankles, feet, and more rarely the abdomen
- skin rash
3) Thiazide diuretics
Thiazide diuretics act on the kidneys to help the body eliminate sodium and water, resulting in less blood volume – less blood volume results in lower blood pressure. They are often the first choice in high blood pressure medications (but not the only choice).
Thiazide diuretics may cause the following side effects, some of which may persist:
- low blood potassium which can affect kidney and heart functions.
- impaired glucose tolerance
- erectile dysfunction
Patients taking thiazide diuretics should have regular blood and urine tests in order to monitor blood sugar and potassium levels.
Patients aged 80 years or over may be given indapamide (Lozol), a special type of thiazide diuretic which helps reduce death from stroke, heart failure and some other cardiovascular diseases.
Beta-blockers were once very widely used for the treatment of hypertension. Because they have more potential side effects than other current hypertensive drugs, they tend to be used today when other treatments have not worked.
They slow the heart rate as well as reducing the force of the heart, resulting in a drop in blood pressure.
Beta-blockers may have the following side effects:
- cold hands and feet
- slow heartbeat
The side effects below are also possible, but less common:
- disturbed sleep
- erectile dysfunction
5) Renin inhibitors
Aliskiren (Tekturna, Rasilez) reduces renin production. Renin is an enzyme produced in the kidneys. Renin is involved in the production of a substance in the body called angiotensin I. Angiotensin I is converted into the hormone angiotensin II, which narrows blood vessels.
Aliskiren blocks the production of angiotensin I so that levels of both angiotensin I and angiotensin II fall. This causes widening of the blood vessels, resulting in a drop in blood pressure. As it is a relatively new medication its use and dosages for patients with hypertension are still being determined.
Aliskiren may have the following side effects:
- flu-like symptoms
Be sure to read the packaging of any medication to check for interactions with other drugs.