Some contributors to high blood pressure, such as your age, genetics, or an underlying condition, may be beyond your control. But there are several factors that you can control.
Your blood pressure is a gauge of how much pressure your blood flow creates in your arteries. If it’s too high, it can damage your cardiovascular system. Hypertension (chronic high blood pressure) can also increase your risk of certain complications, such as heart attack or stroke.
Nearly 50% of adults in the United States have hypertension, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Many more have it and don’t know it.
So how do you know if you have high blood pressure? Per the American Heart Association (AHA)
Hypertension can be primary or secondary. Most cases of hypertension are primary (essential). That means there’s no specific cause for your hypertension, and it’s likely due to several factors, including genetics, age, lifestyle, and diet.
About 5% to 10% of people with high blood pressure have secondary hypertension. It’s attributable to a specific cause, such as hypothyroidism. You can often reverse secondary hypertension if you effectively treat the underlying condition.
Read on to learn about 12 of the most common causes of hypertension.
While most cases of hypertension are primary (many-faceted), several underlying health conditions can contribute to or cause secondary hypertension. Treating these conditions can often reverse hypertension.
- elevated blood pressure
- overweight or obesity
- chronic kidney disease
- certain heart irregularities
Although obesity is an underlying health condition, it warrants its own spot on this list. A 2020 literature review estimated that obesity accounted for
Being overweight or having obesity can cause you to develop high blood pressure. It can also worsen hypertension if you already have it. That’s because having more fat tissue causes changes in your body.
Those changes include hormonal and physical shifts in your kidneys and how they function. Carrying too much weight could also alter how your body uses insulin. This could lead to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes —another risk factor for hypertension.
If you’re overweight or have obesity, losing 2% to 3% of your body weight could reduce your risk for heart disease and hypertension. But a healthcare professional may recommend aiming for 5% to 10%. They’ll usually recommend a mix of diet, exercise, lifestyle changes, or other interventions.
Getting too little physical exercise can negatively impact you in many ways. It could aggravate mental health conditions like anxiety and depression and lead to being overweight.
Exercising can help you maintain a moderate weight or lose weight if necessary. That can positively affect your blood pressure and give you more energy and a sense of well-being.
The AHA suggests the following, based on
- Aim for at least 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic exercise.
- Perform moderate to high intensity muscle strengthening resistance training at least 2 days per week.
- Spend less time sitting.
- Work up to more activity — at least 300 minutes (5 hours) per week.
- Gradually increase the amount and intensity of your exercise.
Eating less sodium can help you lower your blood pressure. Sodium is a component of table salt, aka sodium chloride. It’s also a common addition to many packaged and processed foods to enhance taste.
Most people in the United States consume too much sodium. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the average daily intake for adults is
The FDA suggests a limit of 2,300 mg per day, or about one teaspoon, for people ages 14 and up. The World Health Organization (WHO) suggests an even lower limit of
Heavy alcohol consumption can harm your overall health, including your cardiovascular health. It can contribute to or worsen hypertension. It can also increase your risk of diabetes and several cancers.
The AHA recommends limiting alcohol consumption to two drinks per day for males and one for females. A drink is:
- 12 ounces of beer
- 4 ounces of wine
- 1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits
- 1 ounce of 100-proof spirits
But even moderate alcohol consumption has its drawbacks. A 2019 study of more than 17,000 people suggests that moderate consumption (7 to 13 drinks a week) can substantially raise your risk of hypertension. A
Learn more about how you can reduce your alcohol consumption.
Drinking 3 to 4 cups of coffee a day is safe for most people with high blood pressure, according to a 2017 review of studies and a
The FDA suggests a daily limit of 400 mg of caffeine for healthy adults. For reference:
- An 8-ounce cup of coffee contains 80 to 100 mg of caffeine.
- An 8-ounce cup of tea has 30 to 50 mg.
- An 8-ounce energy drink has 40 to 250 mg.
- A 12-ounce can of soda has 30 to 40 mg.
If you’re concerned about your caffeine intake, it’s best to check in with a healthcare professional. As caffeine is known to elevate blood pressure, wait 30 minutes before taking a blood pressure reading. An inaccurate reading can impact your care, according to a 2022 study.
Learn more about the benefits of reducing your caffeine intake.
Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. Smoking can contribute to many life threatening conditions, including heart attack, stroke, lung disease, and several cancers.
That said, the relationship between hypertension and smoking isn’t yet clear. But smoking does lead to temporary spikes in blood pressure. It also contributes to atherosclerosis, the hardening of your arteries. Stiff arteries cause an increase in blood pressure.
If you smoke, the AHA recommends quitting as soon as you can. Smoking cessation has numerous health benefits, some of them within 20 minutes.
Some medications can increase your blood pressure. A 2021 study of 27,599 adults found that
Medications that might increase your blood pressure include:
- nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- birth control pills
If you have high blood pressure, it’s best to discuss all medications you’re taking, including any over-the-counter (OTC) drugs, with a healthcare professional.
According to the
That’s because when you sleep normally, your blood pressure goes down. That gives your body a break. Having insomnia or other sleep problems, or regularly getting too little sleep, means your body doesn’t get as much of a break.
You can get enough rest by practicing good sleep hygiene. The CDC offers the following tips:
- Go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning, including on the weekends.
- Get enough natural light, especially earlier in the day.
- Get enough physical activity during the day. Try not to exercise within a few hours of bedtime.
- Avoid artificial light, especially within a few hours of bedtime. Use a blue light filter on your computer or smartphone.
- Don’t eat or drink within a few hours of bedtime; avoid alcohol and foods high in fat or sugar.
- Keep your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet.
Learn when you should go to bed to get an optimal amount of sleep.
Hypertension that develops during pregnancy is called gestational hypertension. If you have it, it’s imperative to manage it to avoid harm to you and your baby. Doctors generally define it as blood pressure at or over 140/90 mm Hg.
There are several possible causes of high blood pressure during pregnancy. They include:
- being overweight or obese
- not getting enough physical activity
- drinking alcohol
- having a first-time pregnancy
- having a family history of pregnancy-related hypertension
- carrying more than one child
- being 35 years or older
- having assistive reproductive technology, such as in vitro fertilization (IVF)
- having diabetes or certain autoimmune diseases
You can help prevent high blood pressure in pregnancy by managing risk factors you can change — those that are related to lifestyle, such as being overweight, smoking, and alcohol use. Talk with a healthcare professional as soon as you think it may be a concern.
High blood pressure typically becomes more of a concern as you age. The
|Age range (years)||Prevalence of hypertension|
The NIA recommends the same practices for older adults as younger ones, including modifying essential lifestyle factors like smoking (if you smoke), drinking (if you drink), exercise, and a balanced diet. They also recommend you take prescribed medications if needed and check in with a doctor regularly.
If your parents have high blood pressure, you’re more likely to develop it. Hypertension tends to run in families. This may be due to family members sharing similar habits, like exercise and diet.
But there appears to be a genetic component as well. Genetic factors may contribute to
- Gordon syndrome
- Liddle syndrome
Other genes or combinations of genes might lead to an increased risk of high blood pressure.
Still, it’s not yet known how much having a family history of the condition increases your risk. More research is needed in this area.
According to the
- Get regular physical activity.
- Don’t smoke, or quit smoking if you do.
- Limit alcohol consumption.
- Maintain a moderate weight.
- Eat a balanced diet that’s low in sodium.
- Manage your stress.
- Work with a healthcare professional.
Learn more about how you can effectively lower your blood pressure.
Many factors contribute to your likelihood of developing hypertension. Some of them are within your control, such as your exercise habits, diet, and whether you drink alcohol or smoke. Others are not, such as genetics and age.
If you already have hypertension, you’re not alone. Nearly half of all adults do. You can lower your blood pressure by changing your habits and seeing your healthcare professional for appropriate medication if necessary.
If you don’t have hypertension, check your blood pressure regularly, especially if you have a family history of the condition. Many people, including those with healthy habits, don’t know they have it. You can lower your risk by adopting a healthy lifestyle.