Risk Factors for High Blood Pressure

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Certain factors put you at greater risk for high blood pressure. Some you can change, while others are out of your control. Get the facts here.

Blood pressure is the force at which your blood travels through your arteries. Having high blood pressure (hypertension) is dangerous because it increases your risk for a heart attack or stroke.

Who’s at risk?
About 1 in 3 adults in the U.S. has high blood pressure. It can strike anyone. Experts are unsure what causes the condition, but certain factors are known to increase your risk:

  • Being overweight or obese. Overweight people are more likely than others to develop high blood pressure. If you are overweight, take action to reach a healthy weight. Even a modest weight loss may help lower blood pressure.
  • Smoking. Smoking cigarettes increases your risk for high blood pressure, heart problems, and many other serious diseases. If you smoke, quit.
  • Drinking a lot of alcohol. Heavy drinking is linked with high blood pressure. If you choose to drink, limit alcohol to no more than 2 drinks per day if you are a man, and no more than 1drink a day if you are a woman.
  • Having a sedentary lifestyle. Regular physical activity can help keep blood pressure in target range. Aim for 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week for health benefits. You may need more activity if you need to lose weight. Check with your doctor first before increasing your activity level.
  • Eating too much salt (sodium). Eating a diet high in sodium may raise your blood pressure and lead to heart disease and stroke. Experts now recommend reducing daily sodium intake to less than 1,500 mg, or about two thirds of a teaspoon of salt.
  • Having other health conditions. Other conditions can affect your blood pressure. People with diabetes often have high blood pressure. Some women get high blood pressure during pregnancy. Work with your doctor to take control of your health and reduce your chances of other medical complications.
  • Taking certain medicines. Some drugs, like birth control pills and steroids, can cause high blood pressure or make blood pressure meds less effective. Always tell your doctor about all prescriptions, over-the-counter drugs, herbs, and supplements you take.
  • Stress. Having high levels of stress may be linked with higher blood pressure. Find healthy ways to deal with stress. Try exercise, relaxation techniques, or a relaxing hobby.
  • Having higher than normal blood pressure (prehypertension). Having blood pressure that’s higher than normal, but not high enough to be in the hypertensive range, puts you at risk for high blood pressure.

Other factors also increase your risk, but they are beyond your control:

  • Heredity. If your parents have or had high blood pressure, you have an increased chance of having it, too.
  • Race. African-Americans are more likely to develop high blood pressure than Caucasians. The condition often comes on at a younger age and is more severe.
  • Age. Your risk for getting high blood pressure goes up with age.

How do I know if I have high blood pressure?
If you’re at risk for high blood pressure and haven’t had your blood pressure checked in a while, see your doctor. The condition usually comes on without symptoms, so you can have high blood pressure and not know it. The only way to know for sure is to get your blood pressure checked by your doctor as often as advised.


National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. National High Blood Pressure Education Program. The seventh report on the Joint National Committee on prevention, detection, evaluation, and treatment of high blood pressure. Accessed: 04/25/2011
National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. Who is at risk for high blood pressure? Accessed: 05/09/2011
American Heart Association. High blood pressure, factors that contribute to. Accessed: 05/09/2011
U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Report. Accessed: 05/09/2011
• www.UHCTools.com

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