Risks for High Blood Pressure

Know Your Risks for High Blood Pressure
You may have inherited your blue eyes from your mother and brown hair from your father. And everyone says you look just like one of your grandparents. But you could have inherited more than your looks from the members of your family tree. You may also be carrying on a family tradition of high blood pressure.

If you have a close family member with the condition, then you run a higher risk of developing high blood pressure yourself. Other uncontrollable risk factors for the condition include race and increasing age. African Americans are more likely to have high blood pressure, develop it sooner and be affected more severely than Caucasians. The condition also increases with age, occurring more often in people over the age of 35.

Sidebar –
Blood pressure measures the force of blood pushing against the walls of the arteries (systolic or top number) and when the heart rests between beats (diastolic or bottom number). A reading of 120/80 mmHg is normal; measurements consistently 140/90 mmHg or higher is considered high blood pressure.

Some risk factors for developing the condition cannot be controlled, including heredity, race and age. But you can take steps to help delay or prevent the onset of high blood pressure by making healthy lifestyle choices. You run a higher risk of developing high blood pressure if you:

  • Are obese – Losing even 10 pounds can reduce blood pressure.
  • Eat too much salt – Try spicing up your food with herbs instead.
  • Drink too much alcohol – Limit drinks to two a day for men or one for women.
  • Don’t exercise enough – Aim for a 30-minute daily workout.
  • Smoke – Talk to your doctor about quitting.
  • Are stressed – Relax with yoga, read a book or take a walk.

The exact cause of most high blood pressure is not known. This is called essential or primary hypertension. However, in some cases, certain medical conditions can cause high blood pressure. This is called secondary hypertension and can result from kidney disease, sleep apnea, narrowing of the renal arteries, Cushing’s disease (and other diseases of the adrenal glands), or narrowing of the aorta (the main blood vessel that supplies blood from the heart to the body).

Some over-the-counter and prescription medications, supplements and other substances also can raise or worsen high blood pressure, or interfere with medications meant to lower blood pressure. These substances include certain antidepressants, cold medications and oral contraceptives, some nasal decongestants, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), anorexia drugs, steroids and cocaine.

Approximately 68 million people in the United States, or one in three adults, have high blood pressure. About 18 percent of them don’t know they have the condition because it has no symptoms. By understanding your risk factors for high blood pressure you can reduce your chance of developing the condition. Making even small changes to your lifestyle can potentially avoid life-threatening complications such as stroke, heart failure, heart attack and kidney failure. For more information about high blood pressure, visit the American Heart Association Web site at www.americanheart.org.