High Blood Pressure Causes and Risk Factors
What are the risk factors?
Many factors raise your risk of high blood pressure. Some risk factors, such as unhealthy lifestyle habits, can be changed. Other risk factors, such as age, family history and genetics, race and ethnicity, and sex, cannot be changed. A healthy lifestyle can lower your risk for developing high blood pressure.
Blood pressure tends to increase with age. Our blood vessels naturally thicken and stiffen over time. These changes increase the risk for high blood pressure.
However, the risk of high blood pressure is increasing for children and teens, possibly because more children and teens are living with overweight or obesity.
Family history and genetics
High blood pressure often runs in families. Much of what we know about high blood pressure has come from genetic studies. Many differentare linked to a small increase in the risk high blood pressure. Research suggests that some DNA changes as an unborn baby grows in the womb may lead to high blood pressure later in life.
Some people have a high sensitivity to salt in their diet, which can play a role in high blood pressure. This can also run in families.
Lifestyle habits can increase the risk of high blood pressure, including if you:
- Eat unhealthy foods often. This is especially true for foods with too much sodium and not enough potassium. Some people, including African Americans, older adults, and people who have chronic kidney disease, diabetes, or syndrome, are more sensitive to salt in their diet.
- Drink too much alcohol or caffeine.
- Don’t get enough physical activity.
- Smoke or use illegal drugs such as cocaine, “bath salts,” and methamphetamine.
- Don’t get enough good-quality sleep.
Some prescription and over-the-counter medicines can make it more difficult for your body to control your blood pressure. Antidepressants, decongestants (medicines to relieve a stuffy nose), hormonal birth control pills, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin or ibuprofen can all raise your blood pressure.
Other medical conditions
Other medical conditions change the way your body controls fluids, sodium, andin your blood. Other conditions that can cause high blood pressure include:
- Chronic kidney disease
- Metabolic syndrome
- Overweight and obesity
- Sleep apnea
- Thyroid problems
Race or ethnicity
High blood pressure is more common in African American and Hispanic adults than in white or Asian adults. Compared with other racial or ethnic groups, African Americans tend to have higher average blood pressure numbers and get high blood pressure earlier in life. Experiencing discrimination has been tied to high blood pressure. In addition, some high blood pressure medicines may not work as well in African Americans.
During pregnancy, African American women are more likely than white women to develop preeclampsia. Preeclampsia is a pregnancy disorder that causes sudden high blood pressure and problems with the kidneys and liver.
Men are more likely than women to develop high blood pressure throughout middle age. But in older adults, women are more likely than men to develop high blood pressure.
Women who have high blood pressure during pregnancy are more likely to have high blood pressure later in life.
Social and economic factors
Research now shows that factors such as income, your education, where you live, and the type of job you have may contribute to your risk of high blood pressure. Working early or late shifts is one example of a social factor that can raise your risk.
Additionally, some research has shown that experiencing danger, harm, or trauma as a child has links to a higher risk of developing high blood pressure.
Can High Blood Pressure be prevented?
How to prevent high blood pressure
A heart-healthy lifestyle can help prevent high blood pressure from developing. To live a healthy lifestyle:
- Choose heart-healthy foods that are lower in sodium (salt) and are rich in potassium. Fruits and vegetables are high in potassium. For more ways to limit your sodium, visit the DASH eating plan page or print our Tips to Reduce Salt and Sodium handout.
- Avoid or limit alcohol.
- Get regular physical activity. Even modest amounts can make a difference.
- Aim for a healthy weight.
- Quit smoking.
- Manage stress.
- Get enough good-quality sleep.