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The #1 Cause of High Blood Pressure According to Science

What to know about high blood pressure and how to help prevent it. 
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

High blood pressure is a common condition that affects nearly half of Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When left untreated, high blood pressure can lead to serious health issues such as stroke, heart failure, dementia and more. Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with Dr. Tomi Mitchell, a Board-Certified Family Physician with Holistic Wellness Strategies who explained who is at risk for high blood pressure and the main causes. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


What is Blood Pressure and What's Considered Too High?

doctor taking patient's blood pressure with analog device
Shutterstock / Andrey_Popov

Dr. Mitchell says, "Blood pressure is the force of blood against the walls of arteries. The heart pumps blood into the arteries (blood vessels), carrying blood throughout the body. High blood pressure, also called hypertension, occurs when this force is too high. The higher your blood pressure, the greater the chance of heart disease, kidney disease, stroke, and other problems. Your blood pressure readings have the systolic (top) and diastolic (bottom) numbers. The systolic pressure measures the force when your heart muscle contracts and pushes blood out. The diastolic pressure measures the force when your heart rests between beats. A typical adult's blood pressure should be below 120/80 mmHg. If you have readings consistently above this number, it means you have high blood pressure. You can do several things to lower your blood pressure, such as eating a healthier diet and exercising regularly. You may also need medication if these lifestyle changes aren't enough to lower your blood pressure."


Why is High Blood Pressure Dangerous?

Woman measuring blood pressure 120/80.

Dr. Mitchell tells us, "High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a condition in which the force of blood against artery walls is too high. Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg). A regular blood pressure reading is less than 120/80 mmHg. A reading of 1300/80 mmHg or higher is considered high. However, these "normals"  are not set in stone. These numbers might now apply to you depending on your age and medical conditions.

High blood pressure can lead to heart disease, kidney disease, stroke, and other health problems if uncontrolled. That's why it's essential to keep track of your numbers and see your doctor regularly. Unfortunately, there are often no symptoms of high blood pressure, so the only way to know if yours is high is to have it checked by a healthcare professional. Many people with high blood pressure can lower their numbers by making lifestyle changes and taking medication as prescribed. So if you have high blood pressure, talk to your doctor about how you can reduce your numbers."


How Does Someone Know They Have High Blood Pressure?

man with headache holding water

According to Dr. Mitchell, "Many people with high blood pressure do not experience symptoms, which is why it is often called the 'silent killer.' However, there are some things that you can look for that may be indicative of high blood pressure. These include headaches, vision problems, shortness of breath, nosebleeds, and anxiety. If you experience any of these symptoms regularly, you must talk to your doctor about getting your blood pressure checked.


Who is at Risk for High Blood Pressure?

man having blood pressure checked
VGstockstudio / Shutterstock

About forty-seven percent of adults in the United States have high blood pressure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While high blood pressure can affect anyone, certain factors can increase your risk. For example, age is a significant risk factor for high blood pressure. The CDC reports that people aged 45 years and older are more likely to develop high blood pressure than younger adults. In addition, weight, family history, and sodium intake can all contribute to high blood pressure. If you have any of these risk factors, you must talk to your doctor about ways to keep your blood pressure under control. Lowering your risk can help keep your blood pressure at a healthy level."


Causes of High Blood Pressure

stressed out woman

Dr. Mitchell says, "There are many potential causes of high blood pressure, and it can often be a combination of factors that leads to the condition. Some of the most common causes include:

  1. Obesity or being overweight – excess weight puts additional strain on the heart and blood vessels and can lead to high blood pressure. Carrying excess weight is arguably the most significant risk factor for hypertension. Currently, about forty-one percent of US adults are obese, and about 70% of adults are either obese or overweight.
  2. Lack of physical activity – regular exercise helps to keep the arteries clear and reduces the risk of high blood pressure.
  3. Poor diet – diets high in salt, fat, and cholesterol can contribute to high blood pressure.
  4. Smoking – nicotine constricts the blood vessels and raises blood pressure.
  5. Stress – both emotional and physical stress can lead to an increase in blood pressure."

How to Prevent High Blood Pressure and Ways to Lower it?

women take workout selfie in mirror

"The good news is that you can take steps to prevent or manage high blood pressure," Dr. Mitchell emphasizes. "Many risk factors for high blood pressure, such as obesity and stress, can be controlled by lifestyle changes. Eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, and exercising regularly can help to keep your blood pressure in check. In addition, managing stress through relaxation techniques such as yoga or meditation can also help to reduce your risk of developing hypertension. For example, if you already have high blood pressure, there are medications available that can help to control it. Finally, work with your healthcare provider to find your best treatment plan. Taking steps to prevent or manage high blood pressure can help protect your health and reduce your risk of developing severe complications."

Dr. Mitchell says this "doesn't constitute medical advice and by no means are these answers meant to be comprehensive. Rather, it's to encourage discussions about health choices."

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather