Health Questions: What Causes High Blood Pressure?

This is a run-down of common causes for high blood pressure - and how to avoid them.

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a very common disorder. This is serious business, as it dramatically increases your risk of stroke, heart attack, cornorary artery disease, kidney failure and a bunch of other, decidedly unpleasant conditions. However, there are few signs to tip you off about high blood pressure, so it is in your best interest to monitor your blood pressure from time to time.

There are many different reasons a person can suffer high blood pressure. Genes is partially to blame, but there are almost always other factors in play too.

One of the most common causes of hypertension is obesity, a field where Americans are the unfortunate world leaders. Carrying excess weight puts extra stress on practically everything in your body. Just like an extra 50 pounds forces your knees to work harder, it also makes your heart work harder. Also, don't make the mistake of thinking high blood pressure is a sign of a strong heart. The "pressure" is the force pushing against the arteries because of resistance. In other words, your heart is being forced to work harder than it would like to because the blood won't flow properly through your arteries otherwise.


Another big factor in high blood pressure is the amount of salty foods you eat. Moderate amounts of salt ("sodium" on the nutritional content label) to add flavor to dinner once in a while is not the problem; it's the constantl, daily overconsumption that does us in.

We expect french fries to be drenched in salt, we like salty snacks (pretzels comes to mind) and who forgets the salt on a juicy steak? Vegetarians are sometimes under the mistaken impression that this is not an issue to them, but take a close look at the content of all those "fake meat" products and you may find that you get up to 50% of the total recommended daily intake of sodium right then and there.

Lack of exercise is another factor that racks up the risks. In addition to all the usual reasons for exercising regularly, you can add blood pressure to it. Your muscles get stronger and more efficient the more you exercise, so why would your cardiovascular system be any different?

Then there's the intake of alcohol. Having a cold one with dinner on Friday night won't make much of a difference, but once you have 2-3 alcoholic drinks per day or more you're in the danger zone.

Of course, there are numerous medical conditions that causes high blood pressure, many of which may be hard to detect without actively looking for them. Many kidney diseases make the blood pressure shoot up, as does adrenal gland disorders. The narrowing of the aorta, due to cholesterol blockage for example, can make the body overcompensate - which works fine for the aorta but the rest of you suffers.

Lastly, there's a common sleep disorder ("sleep apnea") that is mostly famous for causing people to snore, that has also been associated with higher blood pressure.

If you suspect that you have or may be in the risk zone for developing high blood pressure, get in touch with your doctor sooner rather than later. Diet and exercise is your first line of defense against high blood pressure, but you may need an extra push through medication. Don't put it off, this is a case where an ounce of prevention truly is better than a pound of cure - just ask a heart attack survivor.

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