High Blood Pressure (cont.)
High Blood Pressure Causes
In 90% of people with hypertension, the cause of high blood pressure is not
known and is referred to as primary or essential hypertension. While the
specific cause is unknown, there are risk factors that can contribute to
developing high blood pressure.
Factors that can not be changed
- Age: The older a person is, the greater the likelihood that he or
she will develop
high blood pressure, especially elevated systolic readings. This is largely due
to arteriosclerosis, or "hardening of the arteries."
- Race: African Americans develop high blood pressure more often than
Caucasians. They develop high blood pressure at a younger age and develop more
severe complications sooner in life.
- Socioeconomic status: High blood pressure is found more commonly among the
less educated and lower socioeconomic groups. Residents of the southeastern
United States, both Caucasian and African American, are more likely to have high
blood pressure than residents of other regions.
- Family history (heredity): The tendency to have high blood pressure appears
to run in families.
- Gender: Generally men have a greater likelihood of developing high blood
pressure than women. This likelihood varies according to age and among various
Factors that can be changed
- Obesity: As body weight increases, the blood pressure rises.
Obesity is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) greater than 30
kg/m². A BMI of 25-30 kg/m² is considered overweight (BMI=weight in pounds x
703/ height in inches ²) Being overweight increases the risk of high blood
pressure. Health care practitioners recommend that all
obese people with high blood
pressure lose weight until they are within 15% of their healthy body weight.
- Obese people are two to six times more likely to develop high blood
pressure than people whose weight is within a healthy range.
- Not only the degree of obesity is important, but also the manner in which
the body accumulates extra fat. Some people gain weight around their belly
(central obesity or "apple-shaped" people), while others store fat around their
hips and thighs ("pear-shaped" people). "Apple-shaped" people tend to have
greater health risks for high blood pressure than "pear-shaped" people.
- Sodium (salt) sensitivity: Some people have high sensitivity to sodium
(salt), and their blood pressure increases if they use salt. Reducing sodium
intake tends to lower their blood pressure. Americans consume 10-15 times more
sodium than they need. Fast foods and processed foods contain particularly high
amounts of sodium. Many over-the-counter medicines also contain large amounts of
sodium. Read food labels and learn about salt content in foods and other products
as a healthy first step to reducing salt intake. Fast food restaurants also make
the salt and calorie content of their food available to consumers at their
- Alcohol use: Drinking more than one to two drinks of alcohol per day tends
to raise blood pressure in those who are sensitive to alcohol.
- Birth control pills (oral contraceptive use): Some women who take
control pills develop high blood pressure.
- Lack of exercise (physical inactivity): A sedentary lifestyle contributes
to the development of obesity and high blood pressure.
- Medications: Certain drugs, such as amphetamines (stimulants), diet pills,
and some medications used for cold
and allergy symptoms such as
tend to raise blood pressure.
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