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Everyday Habits That Can Lead to Surprise Hypertension

Don’t make these high blood pressure health mistakes.
FACT CHECKED BY Alek Korab
Senior female gynecologist checking woman with blood pressure gauge in hospital.

Hypertension, also referred to as high blood pressure, is very common. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tens of millions of Americans suffer from it. Unfortunately, it is also one of the biggest risk factors for heart disease and stroke, the two leading causes of death for Americans. Luckily, there are some things you can do to not only prevent blood pressure from spiking in the first place, but to lower blood pressure that is already high. Read on to learn more about hypertension—including the bad habits you should break to reduce your risk—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You Have "Long" COVID and May Not Even Know It.

1

What Is Hypertension?

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Hypertension is defined as elevated blood pressure, explains Darren P. Mareiniss, MD, FACEP, Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine Sidney Kimmel Medical College – Thomas Jefferson University. While it might seem harmless, long-term, hypertension can contribute to significant cardiovascular, neurologic and renal disease.  

2

How Is High Blood Pressure Diagnosed?

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The American Heart Association has a classification system for blood pressure: Stage I hypertension is systolic blood pressure 130-139 or diastolic BP of 80-89 and Stage II hypertension is systolic blood pressure of 140 or greater or diastolic of 90 or greater.

"The diagnosis is usually made with repeated reports of elevated blood pressure above normal, hypertensive emergency (blood pressure elevation with end organ damage), elevated BP with hypertension related end-organ damage or an episode of severe asymptomatic hypertension ( SBP>180 or DBP > 120)," explained Dr. Mareiniss. 

3

What Causes Hypertension?

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Secondary hypertension is caused by chronic medical conditions or medications, including sleep apnea, DM, thyroid/adrenal issues, kidney disease, Cushing syndrome, coarctation of aorta.   

Primary Hypertension—previously called essential hypertension—is the most common type and the most preventable. "The causes are multi-factor and include genetic predisposition and environmental factors," says Dr. Mareiniss.  Although the exact cause is unclear, there are a number of risk factors:

  • Age: "Advanced age is associated with increased blood pressure, more commonly systolic pressures," says Dr. Mareiniss. 
  • Obesity: A high BMI can make you more likely to have high blood pressure. 
  • Family History of Hypertension: High blood pressure can run in the family. "Hypertension is twice as common in people with one or two hypertensive parents," Dr. Mareiniss reveals.
  • Race: According to Dr. Mareiniss some groups are more prone to hypertension than others, including the African American community.
  • High Sodium Diet: Excess sodium, "greater than 3g of sodium chloride a day," can increase your chances of developing high blood pressure. 
  • Excessive Alcohol Consumption, Illicit Drug Use and Smoking: Bad habits including excess alcohol and drug use as well as smoking can also up your risk of hypertension. 
  • Stress: Stress can temporarily increase blood pressure.
  • Physical Inactivity: Not exercising can put you more at risk for hypertension, Dr. Mareiniss maintains. 

RELATED: 9 Everyday Habits That Might Lead to Dementia

4

Habits to Drop to Avoid Hypertension

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Dr. Mareiniss strongly urges anyone who wants to avoid high blood pressure to manage all of the above factors. "Lifestyle modifications can help treat or prevent hypertension," he maintains. Exercise, aerobic or isometric, weight loss, reducing sodium intake, quitting smoking, increasing high potassium foods (unless contraindicated by kidney disease or specific medications), and even diet can make a huge difference. And to get through life at your healthiest, don't miss The #1 Cause of Diabetes, According to Doctors.