Serena Norr
Written by Serena Norr

Reviewed by Dr Andre Budihardjo, MM

What Causes High Blood Pressure? Symptoms and 6 Treatment Options

High blood pressure is one of the most preventable diseases in America. With changes in diet and physical activity, you can naturally lower your numbers.

A young man checking his blood pressure in a waiting room with a kit

High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is one of the most preventable diseases in America. According to the CDC, nearly half of adults in the U.S. (47% or 116 million) have high blood pressure or are taking medications for it. Men are 50% more likely to have high blood pressure; however, women are close behind at 47% of the population.

Early identification of hypertension can help a person determine the steps they need to manage and treat it. If untreated, high blood pressure can put you at risk for more severe diseases like stroke, heart attack, or heart disease — the current leading cause of death in the U.S.

But what causes high blood pressure? The blood pumps through the arteries, which puts pressure on its walls. This is a normal process that rises and falls every day, measured in numbers called systolic or diastolic. Those with high blood pressure have numbers that are higher than normal

Below, we will discuss more what causes high blood pressure, the risk factors of hypertension, and some of the steps that you can take to keep the condition.

Signs of High Blood Pressure

A young woman using a BP monitor at home to know what causes high blood pressure
Do regular check-ups to know if you have high blood pressure, which you can do at home with a BP monitor.

The challenging aspect of high blood pressure is many don’t realize they have elevated levels. One of the best ways to have this assessed is to visit your doctor regularly who will check your blood pressure numbers. There are also several self-measured blood pressure tests that you can use to monitor your numbers.

Hypertension is a persistent elevation of systolic blood pressure (the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats), and/or diastolic blood pressure (the pressure in your arteries when your heart rests between beats).

Recently, the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association published new guidelines for hypertension management, defining hypertension as blood pressure at or above 130/80 mmHg. Normal blood pressure levels are less than 120/80 mmHg, while 120-129/<80 means elevated blood pressure but not hypertension.

Risk factors of hypertension can be broken down into two categories — modifiable and non-modifiable. Modifiable risk factors can be changed with healthy lifestyle habits. Non-modifiable risk factors, on the other hand, cannot be influenced by any intervention. Below, you’ll find more about the common signs of high blood pressure and what to look out for.

1. Family history of high blood pressure

Family history plays a huge role in our blood pressure levels. For instance, if your parents or blood relatives have been previously diagnosed with hypertension, there’s a high chance that you might be diagnosed with the condition as well. Additionally, while it mainly affects older people, young people also have high blood pressure. According to the American Heart Association, 1 in 4 adults ages 20 to 44 has high blood pressure.

2. Unhealthy eating

A diet that contains too much salt, high calories, saturated and trans-fat, and sugar can put you at an increased risk of hypertension. This can also lead to obesity, which causes a host of other issues to the body.

3. Having a medical condition or illness

Chronic diseases like diabetes, kidney disease, and sleep apnea can make a person vulnerable to hypertension.

Similarly, taking medications for managing or treating certain health disorders can increase your risk of hypertension and exacerbate existing health problems.

For instance, ibuprofen, which belongs to the class of drugs known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), can cause hypertension and kidney damage, worsen the symptoms of heart failure, or trigger a heart attack or stroke. 

Additionally, certain cold and cough medicines may also contain decongestants, such as phenylephrine and pseudoephedrine. This can increase your blood pressure and heart rate by constricting the arteries in your body. Always ask a doctor before you take any over-the-counter medications.

4. Chronic stress

A young woman feeling stressed from work at home
Stress can be what causes high blood pressure. This will lead to more serious issues if not treated.

We are a stressed-out nation, which is profoundly growing due to the impact of COVID-19. According to the American Psychological Association, 8 in 10 Americans (78%) are dealing with some form of stress from its impact.

Stress can also be caused by your work, school, and general pressures in life. If not managed, stress can cause you to indulge in unhealthy habits that can increase your blood pressure. These include a poor diet, lack of physical activity, cigarette or tobacco smoking, and excessive consumption of alcoholic beverages. 

Additionally, stress puts the body in a “fight or flight” state. This releases adrenaline and the stress hormone, cortisol. Together with the direct actions of autonomic nerves, stress can cause the heart to beat faster and the respiration rate to increase. It can also cause the blood vessels in the arms and legs to dilate, digestive processes to change, and glucose levels in the bloodstream to increase. Moreover, chronic stress experienced over a prolonged period can increase a person’s risk of heart and blood vessel disorders. This includes hypertension, heart attack, or stroke.

6 Ways to Manage High Blood Pressure

Being diagnosed with hypertension is not the be-all, end-all. Committing to a healthier lifestyle can help regulate your blood pressure. It can also lower your risk of cardiovascular diseases, kidney damage, sexual dysfunction, and vision loss.

1. Consume a heart-healthy diet

Salmon, chicken, olive oil, vegetables, egg, oats and other healthy nutrients to lower high blood pressure
Following the heart-healthy DASH diet is a great way to lower your blood pressure.

A high blood pressure diagnosis is not the end of the world. The number can be lowered by committing to a healthy diet and lifestyle. Over time, this can lower your high blood pressure, thus lowering your risk of cardiovascular diseases, kidney damage, sexual dysfunction, and vision loss.

A doctor may suggest the Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension or DASH diet if you have high blood pressure. This diet consists of whole-grain products, fish, poultry, and nuts as well as fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, and legumes. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) conducted two studies, showing blood pressures reduction occurred with an eating plan that is low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and total fat.

Additionally, you will have to stay away from foods that are rich in sodium, sweets, added sugars, and sugar-sweetened beverages. The DASH diet recommends only consuming 5% of the daily value of sodium where you will have to read labels and pay attention to sodium counts. To ease your sugar symptoms, enjoy a cup of tea with dried hawthorn slices to help stabilize your blood pressure and ease anxiety symptoms.

As a part of your healthy lifestyle, don’t drink excessively or smoke cigarettes. 

2. Become physically active

A group of women and man dancing to the beats during a zumba class
Regular exercise helps strengthen your heart and lungs and keeps your blood pressure stable.

Movement is key to your high blood pressure plan. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans suggest that adults (ages 18 through 64 years old) should be getting 2 hours and 30 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity or 30 minutes a day.

Aerobic activity is beneficial in strengthening your heart and lungs and promoting good blood circulation. Some fun exercises to add to the routine include brisk walking, spinning, running, or Zumba. In addition, include flexibility, stretching, and muscle-strengthening activities such as yoga or Pilates in your routine.

Additionally, studies indicate that exercise is correlated with many health benefits. This includes improving bone health, improving cognitive function, and improving your quality of life.

3. Know your blood pressure numbers

The key to management, reduction, and prevention is knowing your blood pressure numbers. Visit your doctor regularly to have this assessed and/or get a home monitor to check your numbers. This is important, especially as you take on a new regime to assess if it’s working.

4. Manage your stress

Stress is common and a part of life. However, issues can arise when it is not managed or alleviated. The first step towards effective stress management is to accept that you don’t have the answer to all of life’s problems Acceptance is vital for helping you channel your energy towards activities that keep stress levels in check. 

For instance, taking deep breaths, meditating, and learning how to express gratitude can help you be content with your quality of life and, in turn, lower your stress and blood pressure. 

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) principles, you can also consume calming herbal soup, lingzhi, or Sleep Formula. They can help reduce fatigue, improve sleep quality, and regulate your blood pressure.

5. Take your prescription medication consistently

In some instances, you will have to take medication to lower your blood pressure. It is important to take the medication guidelines prescribed by your doctor, and don’t stop even if you feel well, to keep hypertension at bay. Blood pressure medications, also known as anti-hypertensives, are categorized into several drug classes and work in different ways to manage your hypertension.

Anti-hypertensives commonly prescribed include Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, beta-blockers, vasodilators, central agonists, calcium channel blockers, and diuretics.

Diuretics help your body to regulate blood pressure by removing excess sodium and water. Beta-blockers help lower blood pressure by reducing your heart rate, the workload placed on your heart, and blood output. Meanwhile, ACE inhibitors help the blood vessels relax and open, whereas vasodilators promote better blood flow by relaxing the muscle in blood vessel walls. 

6. Rest

Good sleep is crucial for the body. This is no different for those who have high blood pressure. Generally, the less sleep you get, the higher your blood pressure number might be. According to the CDC, adults should get 7 or more hours of sleep every night. Wind down your day with a good book, take a calming bath, and look at screens can help ease your mind to get a restful night of sleep. Some natural sleep supplements can help your mind to unwind and relax.

In conclusion, an understanding of what is high blood pressure can help you manage and treat this condition. Using the highlighted tips can help you regulate your blood pressure and improve your quality of life.

References

  1. American Academy of Family Physicians. 2020. High Blood Pressure. [Accessed on December 9, 2021]
  2. CDC. 2020. High Blood Pressure Symptoms and Causes. [Accessed on December 9, 2021]
  3. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. 2021. Your Guide to Lowering Your Body Pressure with DASH. [Accessed on December 9, 2021]
  4. American Heart Association. 2019. Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics—2019 Update: A Report From the American Heart Association. [Accessed on December 9, 2021]
  5. American Psychological Association. 2021. COVID-19 and It’s Stressors. [Accessed on December 9, 2021]
  6. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2018. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. [Accessed on December 9, 2021]
  7. Mayo Clinic. 2021. Sleep deprivation: A cause of high blood pressure?. [Accessed on December 9, 2021]
  8. CDC. 2017. Short Sleep Duration Among US Adults. [Accessed on December 9, 2021]

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