High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is a common disease that occurs when the pressure in your arteries is higher than it should be.
Signs and Symptoms of High Blood Pressure
Most people with high blood pressure have no signs or symptoms of it. That’s why the condition has been dubbed a “silent killer.”
Causes and Risk Factors of High Blood Pressure
The following can increase your chances of developing high blood pressure.
Dietary Choices What you choose to eat (and not to eat) can increase your risk of hypertension, per the Mayo Clinic:
- Too much sodium can cause your body to retain fluid, which increases blood pressure.
- Since potassium helps balance the amount of sodium in your cells, not getting enough of it can raise blood pressure.
Causes of Secondary Hypertension
When high blood pressure arises suddenly due to an identifiable condition, it’s called secondary hypertension.
Per the Mayo Clinic, the following conditions can lead to secondary hypertension, including:
- Kidney problems
- Adrenal gland tumors
- Thyroid problems
- Blood vessel defects
- Obstructive sleep apnea
- Alcohol abuse or chronic alcohol use
- Illegal drugs, including cocaine and amphetamines
Drugs That Can Cause High Blood Pressure
Medications that you take to control other health conditions, such as arthritis, epilepsy, or allergies, can cause your blood pressure to rise.
Such medications can also interfere with the ability of antihypertensive drugs to keep blood pressure down.
Pain Medications Common pain and anti-inflammatory medicines can lead to the retention of water, which can increase blood pressure and create problems with the kidneys.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) and naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn)
- Indomethacin (Indocin)
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
- Piroxicam (Feldene)
Antidepressants These drugs work by changing the body’s response to chemicals that affect mood. That can also lead to an increase in blood pressure.
Examples of antidepressants that may elevate blood pressure include:
- Fluoxetine (Prozac, Sarafem)
- Venlafaxine (Effexor XR)
- Monoamine oxidase inhibitors
- Tricyclic antidepressants
Hormones Birth control pills can also affect blood pressure. Women who take birth control pills usually experience a small rise in systolic and diastolic blood pressure (the top and bottom numbers that are determined when you get your blood pressure checked).
Hormone therapy used to relieve symptoms of menopause can also cause a small rise in systolic blood pressure.
If you know you have high blood pressure but are considering hormone therapy, talk with your doctor about the risks and benefits of undergoing hormone therapy, as well as the best ways to control your blood pressure.
Additionally, some recreational and illegal drugs, such as cocaine, ecstasy (MDMA), and amphetamines, are also known to increase blood pressure.
How Is High Blood Pressure Diagnosed?
Blood pressure checks are part of routine doctor visits. To check your blood pressure, your healthcare provider will place an inflatable cuff around your arm and use a pressure-measuring gauge.
Before giving a diagnosis of high blood pressure, your physician will likely take two or three readings during separate appointments. Your physician may also ask you to keep a record of blood pressure measurements you take at home. That’s because blood pressure varies throughout the day, and some people may be anxious before or during a doctor visit, causing elevated blood pressure.
If your blood pressure is consistently 130/80 millimeters of mercury (mmHg) or higher, you will most likely be diagnosed with high blood pressure.
Duration of High Blood Pressure
But because of potential side effects, a long-term aggressive medication regimen may not be sustainable.
Treatment and Medication Options for High Blood Pressure
Most people who have high blood pressure will likely need lifelong treatment to help ward off or delay serious health problems brought on by the condition.
There are a variety of drugs available to treat hypertension. Some work by removing extra fluid and salt from your body to lower blood pressure; others slow down your heartbeat or relax and widen blood vessels.
For many people with high blood pressure, taking more than one medication in low doses is more effective than taking larger doses of a single drug.
According to the Mayo Clinic, depending on your past medical history and the severity of your hypertension, your doctor may recommend one or more of the following drugs:
- Diuretics Sometimes called water pills, diuretics are typically the first line of treatment for high blood pressure. This medication helps the kidneys rid sodium and water from the body, decreasing the amount of fluid flowing through the veins and arteries, which in turn lowers blood pressure.
- Beta-Blockers These medications reduce the workload of the heart and widen blood vessels. As a result, the heart beats slower and less forcefully. Beta blockers are often combined with other blood pressure medications.
- Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme Inhibitors (ACE Inhibitors) This class of drugs helps lower blood pressure by relaxing the blood vessels, allowing blood to flow through the body more easily.
- Angiotensin II Receptor Blockers (ARBs) These medications block specific hormones from having any effect on the heart and blood vessels. This prevents blood pressure from rising.
- Calcium Channel Blockers This type of medication interrupts the movement of calcium into the cells of blood vessels, thus relaxing the muscle cells in the blood vessels.
- Renin Inhibitors These drugs slow the production of an enzyme called renin, which is made in the kidneys and can increase blood pressure. Renin inhibitors should not be taken with ACE inhibitors or ARBs.
- Alpha-Blockers These medications lower blood pressure by blocking a hormone from tightening the muscles in the veins and arteries.
- Alpha-Beta-Blockers This subclass of combined alpha- and beta-blockers slows the heart rate to reduce the amount of blood pumped through the blood vessels.
- Central-Acting Agents These medications block signals from the brain that alert the nervous system to increase the heart rate and narrow the blood vessels.
- Vasodilators These medications prevent the artery muscles from tightening and the arteries from narrowing.
Using Diet to Treat High Blood Pressure
Prevention of High Blood Pressure
The best way to prevent high blood pressure is to lead a healthy lifestyle. According to MedlinePlus, that includes:
- Eating a healthy diet
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Exercising regularly
- Not smoking
- Limiting alcohol intake
- Reducing stress
Research and Statistics: How Many People Have High Blood Pressure?
Hypertension is a very common condition, in developing countries as well as industrialized nations.
High blood pressure is more common in men than women, the CDC reports. About 50 percent of men in the United States have high blood pressure, compared with 44 percent of women.
Only 1 in 4 Americans with hypertension have the condition under control.
Black Americans and High Blood Pressure
Related Conditions and Causes of High Blood Pressure
There are certain conditions that may make a person more likely to develop high blood pressure. These include pregnancy and post-traumatic stress disorder.
High Blood Pressure During Pregnancy
If not treated, high blood pressure during pregnancy can lead to a number of complications for both the mother and the baby. Hypertension can affect a mother’s kidneys and lead to preeclampsia, as well as increase her risk of future heart disease, kidney disease, and stroke.
PTSD and High Blood Pressure
A growing body of research has linked post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to high blood pressure.
Researchers aren’t sure about the mechanism underlying the relationship between PTSD and high blood pressure, but it may have something to do with higher levels of inflammation in patients with PTSD, which may increase blood pressure.
Resources We Love
Favorite Organizations for Essential High Blood Pressure Information
The AHA is the nation’s oldest and largest nonprofit organization dedicated to fighting heart disease, as well as its major risk factors, including high blood pressure. The AHA funds lifesaving research and advocates for people affected by all heart-related issues. You can also find diet and lifestyle tips for getting your blood pressure under control.
Million Hearts is a national initiative led by the CDC and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Its goal is to prevent one million heart attacks and strokes within five years. It focuses on small steps people can take to reduce risk factors for these heart events, including blood pressure control.
Favorite Online Support Networks
Take comfort in the fact that you’re not alone in the struggle to lower your blood pressure. Read personal stories and connect with others who have decided to share their journey in controlling hypertension.
This online support group from the American Heart Association allows you to connect with others going through an array of heart issues, including hypertension. Ask questions, share your story, and get peer support from others going through similar experiences as they take control of their heart health.
Favorite Resources for Diet Advice
Cutting sodium in your diet is an essential lifestyle change for getting your blood pressure under control. Check out the delicious low-salt recipes on this blog — they'll satisfy anyone looking to adhere to a low-sodium diet.
This app allows users to track their vital signs, as well as record details like medications, weight, and other health data. The app then generates charts that explain how aspects of your health and treatment plan interact. Blood Pressure Monitor is free on iOS.
This app, available on iOS and Android, allows you to enter your blood pressure measurements and evaluate your numbers graphically over time. Easily share your readings with your doctor or family members and set reminders so you never forget to measure your BP and never miss a doctor’s appointment.
Favorite Website for High Blood Pressure Products
This well-known independent nonprofit organization rounds up and reviews the best home blood pressure monitors to help you keep track of your numbers and get them under control.
Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking
- The Facts About High Blood Pressure. American Heart Association. November 30, 2017.
- Know Your Risk Factors for High Blood Pressure. American Heart Association. December 31, 2017.
- High Blood Pressure. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. May 8, 2020.
- High Blood Pressure (Hypertension). Mayo Clinic. July 1, 2021.
- Limiting Alcohol to Manage High Blood Pressure. American Heart Association. October 31, 2016.
- High Blood Pressure During Pregnancy. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. May 6, 2021.
- High Blood Pressure and Heart Disease in Women. American Heart Association. June 28, 2021.
- Medications and Supplements That Can Raise Your Blood Pressure. Mayo Clinic. March 19, 2021.
- High Blood Pressure Redefined for First Time in 14 years: 130 Is the New High. American Heart Association. November 13, 2017.
- High Blood Pressure — Understanding the Silent Killer. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. January 21, 2021.
- A Drug-Free Approach to Lowering High Blood Pressure. Mayo Clinic. May 18, 2021.
- DASH Eating Plan. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. December 29, 2021.
- Health Threats From High Blood Pressure. American Heart Association. October 31, 2016.
- Facts About Hypertension. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. September 27, 2021.
- High Blood Pressure in Children. American Heart Association. October 31, 2016.
- High Blood Pressure and African Americans. American Heart Association. October 31, 2016.
- Preeclampsia and High Blood Pressure. American Heart Association. February 23, 2021.
- Preeclampsia.?Mayo Clinic. March 19, 2020.
- Howard JT, Sosnov JA, Janak JC, et al. Associations of Initial Injury Severity and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Diagnoses With Long-Term Hypertension Risk After Combat Injury. Hypertension. May 2018.