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What Causes High Blood Pressure? 10 Reasons You Have Hypertension

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    Sitting on Your Butt

    While the most noticeable way that sitting all day results in high blood pressure (aka hypertension) is by promoting fat storage and weight gain, it's also true that the less you get your heart pumping and working during the day, the less effective it will become at doing its job over time, Campbell says. And most women don't work out enough to counteract the effects of sitting disease, according to 2015 research from the University of Toronto.

    Fight Back: Get at least 30 minutes of exercise at least five days (and preferably seven days) a week, advises Robert A. Kloner, MD, PhD, director of the Cardiovascular Research Institute at Huntington Medical Research Institutes. Your best bet is performing cardiovascular exercise like swimming, running, and spinning. Plus, even walking can go a long way toward lowering your blood pressure, he says. So start taking extra trips to the water cooler.

  • Overdoing It on Alcohol

    "Alcohol use in moderation is actually associated with lower cardiac mortality, possibly because alcohol increases good cholesterol levels and dilates the body's blood vessels. But excess alcohol tends to jazz up the sympathetic nervous system and increase blood pressure," he says. What's more, overdoing it at happy hour can pack on the pounds, which, again, will increase your blood pressure, according to Campbell.

    Fight Back: Drink. But only in moderation, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines as no more than one drink per day in women. Bonus: Research published in the Archives of Internal Medicine suggests that women who drink a light to moderate amount on the regular tend to gain less weight over the years compared to those who never raise a glass.

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    Eating Too Much Salt

    You probably hate the way a bag of chips—or, more specifically, its sodium—makes you bloat. But there's a whole other reason to hate salt's water-retaining ways, Campbell says. When your kidneys respond to excess sodium intake by retaining water, you end up with too many fluids running through your bloodstream, which can increase the pressure on your blood vessels, he says.

    Fight Back: Nix processed foods. According to the CDC, more than nine in 10 Americans get more sodium than they should. The top sources include breads and rolls, lunch meats, cheese, potato chips, pretzels, and popcorn.

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    Taking Certain Medications

    There's no end to the number of medications that list increased blood pressure as a possible side effect. Among the most commonly used ones are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, decongestants, certain antidepressants, and hormonal birth control, according to Kloner. Some medications raise blood pressure by causing you to retain water, while others simply cause your blood vessels to constrict.

    Fight Back: If you have high blood pressure, talk to your doc about how your current medications (both prescription and OTC) could potentially affect your ticker, Campbell says. And always discuss possible side effects before popping anything for a cold or sinus infection—these medications can significantly elevate blood pressure levels in some women or even reduce the effectiveness of any medications you are taking to reduce your blood pressure.

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    By putting your nervous system's pedal to the metal, stress causes your adrenal glands to pump out blood pressure-increasing hormones, Kloner says. Plus, your body's natural fight-or-flight response causes your blood vessels to contract. That's a good way to prevent blood loss if you're a cavewoman who just had a close call with a lion. But it's less than helpful when you're keyed up at work over a tyrannical boss and looming deadlines, he says. The longer you spend in this stressed-out state, the more strain you put on your heart.

    Fight Back: Take a chill pill. While everyone gets stressed from time to time, it's important to find a way to keep little flare-ups from snowballing into chronic, long-term stress, Campbell says. "For some it's meditation, for others it's exercise, or even a hobby."

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    Having a Family History of Hypertension

    If your parents have high blood pressure, your chances of having it are a lot higher. High blood pressure and heart disease definitely have a genetic component, Kloner says, who notes that African Americans are at a higher risk of high blood pressure and heart disease compared to Americans of European, Asian, and Hispanic decent.

    Fight Back: You can't change your genetics. But you can talk to your doctor about your family history of high blood pressure to help make sure that you stop any spikes before they become a problem, as well as discuss whether you need to take blood pressure-lowering medications, Campbell says. If you don't already know your family history of hypertension, ask your parents, siblings, and grandparents about their levels.

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    Smoking (Even Occasionally)

    Even if you don't consider yourself a smoker, the occasional cigarette every now and then can add up to high blood pressure. The nicotine from just one cig can cause your blood vessels to temporarily narrow, and tobacco smoke itself physically damages the cells that make up your blood vessels, Campbell says. The result: Stiff, inflexible blood vessels, and an ever-increasing risk of high blood pressure and heart disease.

    Fight Back: Whatever your history with cigarettes, any steps to reduce your exposure to smoking can help reduce your risk of high blood pressure and heart disease, he says. Talk to your doctor, friends, and family about your desire to quit. You don't have to do it by yourself.

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    Not Eating Fruits and Vegetables

    Sodium aside, overall poor diets can contribute to high blood pressure levels. While weight gain is a definite link between junky diets and hypertension, other mechanisms might be at play, Campbell says. For instance, researchers at the University of Houston are currently studying how antioxidants may help treat high blood pressure.

    Risk Factors: Focus on a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fats, recommends Campbell, who notes that following Mediterranean-type diets is associated with a healthier heart.

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    Sleep Apnea

    Besides the obvious downsides of not breathing throughout the night, sleep apnea can shoot up your blood pressure levels, Kloner says. Why? Because when you're not breathing and your body's oxygen levels fall, your brain responds by telling your blood vessels to constrict and prioritize oxygen flow to your heart and brain over the rest of your organs as well as your skeletal muscles. The effects can continue long after the sun comes up.

    Risk Factors: Are you a snorer—and not just when you have a cold? Then you might benefit from visiting a doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of sleep apnea, such as a pulmonary, sleep, or ENT doctor, he says.

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    Getting Older

    There's no getting out of this one: Age ups your risk of high blood pressure. "Readings tend to rise with age and do so exponentially after the age of 30," Kloner says. "By the age of 75 almost 95 percent of people have high blood pressure." While changes in your blood vessels and heart are a natural part of the aging process and may up your blood pressure levels, hypertension in older adults most often goes back to all the other risk factors we already discussed, Campbell says. After all, 70 years of stress, sedentary living, and noshing on French fries is going to do far more damage to your blood pressure than 20 years of unhealthy living.

    Fight Back: You can't turn back the clock, so just focus on decreasing your other risk factors, he says. And made sure to get your blood pressure checked regularly. Most people should get theirs checked at every doctor visit, or at least every two years, according to the CDC. But if you have high blood pressure or are at risk for developing hypertension, you might benefit from taking even more regular readings at home.