High blood pressure causes no signs or symptoms. That’s why healthcare providers call it a “silent killer.” You could have high blood pressure for years and not know it. In fact, the World Health Organization estimates that 46% of adults with hypertension don’t know they have it.  When your blood pressure is 180/120 mmHg or higher, you may experience symptoms like headaches, heart palpitations or nosebleeds. Blood pressure this high is a hypertensive crisis that requires immediate medical care.

What are the types of high blood pressure?

Primary hypertension. Causes of this more common type of high blood pressure (about 90% of all adult cases in the U.S.) include aging and lifestyle factors like not getting enough exercise.

Secondary hypertension. Causes of this type of high blood pressure include different medical conditions or a medication you’re taking.

Primary and secondary high blood pressure (hypertension) can co-exist. For example, a new secondary cause can make blood pressure that’s already high get even higher. You might also hear about high blood pressure that comes or goes in certain situations.

What causes hypertension?

Primary hypertension doesn’t have a single, clear cause. Usually, many factors come together to cause it. Common causes include:

Unhealthy eating patterns (including a diet high in sodium).

Lack of physical activity.

High consumption of beverages containing alcohol.

Secondary hypertension has at least one distinct cause that healthcare providers can identify. Common causes of secondary hypertension including immunosuppressants, NSAIDs and oral contraceptives.

Kidney disease.

Obstructive sleep apnea.

Primary aldosteronism (Conn’s syndrome).

Recreational drug use (including amphetamines and cocaine).

Renal vascular diseases, which are conditions that affect blood flow in your kidneys’ arteries and veins. Renal artery stenosis is a common example.

Tobacco use (including smoking, vaping and using smokeless tobacco).

Is high blood pressure genetic?

Researchers believe genes play a role in high blood pressure. If one or more of your close biological family members have high blood pressure, you have an increased risk of developing it, too.

What are the risk factors for high blood pressure?

  • Risk factors that make you more likely to have high blood pressure include:
  • Having biological family members with high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease or diabetes.
  • Being over age 55.
  • Being Black.
  • Having certain medical conditions, including chronic kidney disease, metabolic syndrome, obstructive sleep apnea or thyroid disease.
  • Having overweight or obesity.
  • Not getting enough exercise.
  • Eating foods high in sodium.
  • Smoking or using tobacco products.
  • Drinking too much.

What are the complications of this condition?

Untreated hypertension may lead to serious health problems including:

  • Coronary artery disease (CAD).
  • Stroke.
  • Heart attack.
  • Peripheral artery disease.
  • Kidney disease and kidney failure.
  • Complications during pregnancy.
  • Eye damage.
  • Vascular dementia.
  • Diagnosis and Tests

How is high blood pressure diagnosed?

If you have high blood pressure readings at two or more appointments, your provider may tell you that you have high blood pressure. They’ll talk to you about your medical history and lifestyle to identify possible causes.

Lifestyle changes to lower your blood pressure

Here are some proven ways to lower your blood pressure naturally:

Keep a weight that’s healthy for you. Your healthcare provider can give you a target range.

Eat a healthy diet. An example is the DASH diet. This is a way of eating that’s full of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy.

Cut down on salt. Ideally, limit your sodium intake to no more than 1,500 milligrams (mg) per day. If this is too difficult at first, you can start by reducing your daily intake by at least 1,000 milligrams.

Get enough potassium. Try to consume 3,500 to 5,000 milligrams per day, ideally through the foods you eat rather than supplements. Some foods high in potassium include bananas, avocados and potatoes (with skin).

Exercise. Ask your healthcare provider for tips to get started. In general, start slow and work your way up to 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week. Resistance training (like lifting light weights) is also helpful.

Limit alcohol. If you choose to drink beverages containing alcohol, do so in moderation.

Sometimes, providers recommend lifestyle changes along with medications to lower your blood pressure.

Can I prevent high blood pressure?

Follow a healthy eating plan. This is an important step in keeping your blood pressure normal. The DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) emphasizes adding fruits, vegetables and whole grains to your diet.

Cut down on sodium. To prevent hypertension, you should reduce the amount of sodium in your diet. Try to keep it below 1,500 milligrams a day.

Keep a healthy weight. Going hand-in-hand with a proper diet is keeping a weight that’s healthy for you. Losing excess weight with diet and exercise will help lower your blood pressure to healthier levels.

Keep active. Even simple physical activities, such as walking, can lower your blood pressure (and your weight).

Drink alcohol in moderation. Having more than one drink a day (for women or people assigned female at birth) or more than two drinks a day (for men or people assigned male at birth) can raise blood pressure. One drink is defined as 1 ounce (oz) of alcohol, 5 ounces of wine or 12 ounces of beer.

Submitted by

Cleveland Clinic