It is estimated that roughly 1.56 billion people worldwide will be living with hypertension by the year 2025. With a number that astounding, the time is now for determining the exact causes of the condition and figuring out what you can do to avoid being one of the statistics. While the condition is linked to a number of lifestyle and dietary factors, there are some additional causes as well. In many cases, pinpointing the causes to which you are most susceptible will help you effectively reduce your risk of developing this risky healthy condition.

What Is Blood Pressure?

In general, blood pressure is a measurement of the force of your blood pushing against the blood vessel walls in your body. Your heart pumps blood into your blood vessels, which then systematically carry the blood throughout your body. When your heart and the rest of your cardiovascular system is functioning normally, there is a steady amount of force needed to complete this process. However, if there is an issue that causes the heart to have to pump harder to carry blood throughout your body, the resulting condition is known as hypertension or high blood pressure. This condition can be particularly concerning because it not only makes the heart work harder, but it can also contribute to hardening of the arteries known as atherosclerosis, stroke, kidney disease, and even heart failure.

When Is Blood Pressure Considered “High”?

When you take your blood pressure or have it read, the measurement gives you a top number (systolic) and bottom number (diastolic). Medical professionals have done research to determine normal resting blood pressure rates as well as levels that indicate high blood pressure may be an issue or even a looming concern. The ranges are as follows:

• Normal: At or below 120 over 80

• Prehypertension: Between 120 and 139 over 80 to 89

• Stage 1 High Blood Pressure: Between 140 and 159 over 90 to 99

• Stage 2 High Blood Pressure: 160 and above over 100 and above

• High Blood Pressure in individuals over the age of 60: 150 and above over 90 and above

If you find that your blood pressure is currently above the normal range and you are not already being treated for hypertension or prehypertension, you should consult your doctor immediately.

What Causes High Blood Pressure?

It is often difficult for doctors to pinpoint the specific cause of high blood pressure in individuals. Nonetheless, several factors and conditions have been identified as playing a major role in its development. Some of the common factors that may contribute to hypertension include:

• Smoking

• Being overweight or obese

• Doing too little physical activity

• Eating a high sodium diet

• Consuming more than 1 to 2 alcoholic beverages a day

• Stress

• Aging

• Genetics

• Family history of high blood pressure or heart disease

• Chronic kidney disease

• Adrenal and thyroid disorders

• Sleep apnea

How Is High Blood Pressure Classified?

There are two categories of high blood pressure.

Primary or Essential Hypertension

In a large percentage, as high as 95 percent, of cases, the exact underlying cause of high blood pressure cannot be identified. This type of high blood pressure is classified as essential or primary hypertension.

While this condition still remains partially cryptic, it has been effectively linked to certain identified risk factors. In fact, high blood pressure is a condition that often runs in families and typically affects more men than women. Likewise, age as well as race tend to play a role in diagnosis. In the United States, African Americans are twice as likely to develop the condition as Caucasians; however, the diagnosis gap tends to narrow around the age of 44. Additionally, after the age of 65, African American women have the highest diagnosis rate of high blood pressure.

This type of hypertension is also closely tied to diet and lifestyle factors. The research linking salt or sodium and high blood pressure is undeniable. In fact, individuals who live on the northern islands of Japan eat more salt per capita than anyone else in the world, and this population also has the highest incidence rate of primary hypertension. On the other hand, individuals who add little to no salt to their food show essentially no traces of primary hypertension.

Factors other than salt can also contribute to essential hypertension. Additional factors that impact blood pressure of this type include obesity, diabetes, stress, insufficient intake of key nutrients, lack of physical activity, and chronic alcohol use.

Secondary Hypertension

When a definitive cause for high blood pressure can be found, the condition is known as secondary hypertension. Of the common causes of this condition, kidney disease is the leader of the ranks. Additionally, hypertension can be activated by tumors or other abnormalities of the adrenal glands, hormonal birth control, pregnancy, and certain medications. Other common contributing factors include obstructive sleep apnea, thyroid conditions, defects in the blood vessels, illegal drug use, and alcohol abuse or chronic alcohol use.

Who is More Likely to Develop High Blood Pressure?

Individuals who fit the following descriptions are the most likely to suffer from and develop the condition:

• Individuals with a family history of hypertension

• Smokers

• Pregnant women

• Women who take birth control pills

• Individuals over the age of 35

• Individuals who are overweight or obese

• Individuals who are sedentary

• Individuals who drink excessively

• Individuals with a high fat or high salt diet

• Individuals with sleep apnea

While none of these categories is a direct indicator for developing high blood pressure, each classification has been found to have a unique link to the pathology of the condition. For example, genetic factors often play a role in conditions such as hypertension and heart disease. It is also likely that these family members share common environments and other risk factors that may contribute to their risk for the condition. Likewise, lifestyle factors, such as smoking, being inactive, consuming alcohol, and eating a high fat and/or high salt diet cause additional strain on the heart and body, which can lead to a greater risk of the disease. Hormone imbalances also have been found to have a direct correlation to hypertension, which is one of the biggest reasons women taking birth control or who are pregnant are at an increased risk.

The holidays can be a stressful time with family coming over, getting dinner ready, and all. It can cause your stress to go up! Fortunately, there are a number of steps you can take to manage your high blood pressure. These lifestyle changes can help you lower your blood pressure and keep your levels in check.

HOW TO LOWER YOUR RISK OF HYPERTENSION

1. Lose excess weight.

Weight plays an important role in hypertension. If you are overweight, your heart has to work significantly harder to pump blood throughout the body, which is a key contributor to high blood pressure.

2. Exercise regularly – at least 30 minutes a day most days of the week.

Regular exercise makes the heart stronger and also helps it work more efficiently. So exercise significantly helps reduce your risk of high blood pressure.

3. Eat a balanced diet rich in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.

A balanced diet increases the amount of nutrients you take into your body and limits the amount of calories, fat, and sugar you take in. This is an important step toward managing blood pressure.

4. Reduce your sodium intake.

Sodium intake is directly linked to an increase in blood pressure, so limiting your intake can almost immediately reduce your risk of hypertension. 

5. Limit your alcohol consumption.

Alcohol consumption has been found as a contributing factor to high blood pressure, so limiting your intake helps reduce your risk. For most people, that means no more than one drink a day. 

6. Quit smoking.

Cigarettes contain nicotine and other chemical ingredients that negatively impact your blood pressure. Quitting smoking is another measure that can almost immediately decrease your risk of the condition.

7. Reduce your caffeine intake.

Caffeine has an immediate impact on your blood pressure any time it is introduced into your system, so if you are trying to reduce your risk of hypertension, reducing or eliminating caffeine can help you do so. 

8. Reduce your stress.

Stress also causes an increase in blood pressure. So reducing your stress or finding a positive way to channel it, such as exercise, will help you reduce your risk for high blood pressure.

In addition to these steps, monitoring your blood pressure at home and seeing your doctor regularly for checkups will help you keep ahead of any blood pressure issues. Fortunately, innovative new monitoring systems, like the iHealth Wireless Blood Pressure Monitor, make it quick and easy to monitor your levels and to keep track of vital information in regards to your health. So don’t let a largely preventable disease like hypertension sneak up on you.