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High Blood Pressure: Causes and Remedies

Find information on what causes high blood pressure and how to control it.

High Blood Pressure: Causes and Remedies

Food for Thought

Treating high blood pressure can reduce heart failure by more than 50%, strokes by 35% to 40%, to 25%.

For reasons that are not completely understood, salt can play an active role in raising the blood pressure in people who are salt-sensitive.

What Exactly Is High Blood Pressure?

When your heart beats, it pumps blood into your arteries and creates a pressure within them. High blood pressure (also known as hypertension) occurs when too much pressure is placed on the walls of the arteries. This can occur if there is an increase in blood volume or the blood vessels themselves constrict or narrow.

People who are genetically sensitive to salt can't efficiently get rid of extra sodium through their urine. Therefore, that extra sodium hangs around, drawing in extra water, which means an increase in blood volume. This increased blood volume can then stimulate the vessels to constrict, creating increased pressure.


Hypertension is the medical term for sustained high blood pressure. It has nothing do with being tense, nervous, or hyperactive.

Imagine a garden hose with a normal flow of water running through it. No problem. Now, think about the increased pressure on the hose when you drastically turn up the amount of water rushing out. What if you were to pinch off spots of this hose, like a constricted blood vessel? A garden hose might endure the wear and tear, but your arteries can become extremely damaged by such constant pressure—so damaged that the end result might include a heart attack, stroke (a brain attack), or kidney disease.

What Causes High Blood Pressure?

According to recent statistics, one out of every four American adults—nearly 60 million people—has high blood pressure. In a small percentage of people, this increased pressure is from an underlying problem such as kidney disease or a tumor of the adrenal gland. However, in 90 to 95 percent of all cases, the cause is unclear. That's why it is known as the silent killer; it just creeps up without any warning. Whereas some of the contributing factors are not controllable, others can be quite controllable.

What's a normal
blood pressure reading?

If you haven't seen your doctor in a few years, you may be in for a shock. In 2003, the definition of “normal” blood pressure (which had been 120/80) changed. Experts now recommend a systolic (that's the upper number) reading of less than 120 and a diastolic (the lower number) reading of less than 80. If your systolic pressure is between 120 and 140 and your diastolic between 80 and 90, you have “pre-hypertension.” The definition of full-blown high blood pressure hasn't changed, though—it's still 140/90 or higher.

How do you know
if you have high blood pressure?

You don't! High blood pressure is known as the “silent killer” be cause it has no symptoms. In fact, many people can have hypertension for years without knowing it. By that time, their body organs may have already been damaged. Stay on top of your health and have your blood pressure checked regularly by a qualified health professional

Risk factors that cannot be controlled are …

  • Age. The older you get, the more likely you are to develop high blood pressure.
  • Race. African Americans tend to have high blood pressure more often than whites. They also tend to develop it earlier and more severely.
  • Heredity. High blood pressure can run in families. If you have a family history, you're twice as likely to develop it as others.

Risk factors that can be controlled are …

  • Obesity. Being extremely overweight is clearly related to high blood pressure. In fact, nearly 60 percent of all high blood pressure cases concern overweight patients. By losing weight—even a small amount—obese individuals can significantly reduce their blood pressure.
  • Sodium consumption. Reducing the intake of salt can lower blood pressure in people who are salt-sensitive
  • Potassium, calcium, and magnesium consumption. Studies have shown that eating foods rich in these minerals can play an active role in maintaining normal blood pressure.
  • Alcohol consumption. Regular use of alcohol can dramatically increase blood pressure in some people. Fortunately, alcohol's effect on blood pressure is completely reversible. Limit yourself to a maximum of two drinks a day.
  • Smoking. Although the long-term effect of smoking on blood pressure is still unclear, the short-term effect is that it can raise blood pressure briefly. However, given that both smoking and high blood pressure have been linked to heart disease, smoking compounds the risk.
  • Oral contraceptives. Women who take birth control pills may develop high blood pressure.
  • Physical inactivity. Lack of exercise can contribute to high blood pressure. By becoming more active with moderate exercise, an inactive person can get into better shape, feel terrific, and help keep his or her blood pressure in check.

Investigating Your Blood Pressure Numbers

Your doctor measures two numbers when checking your blood pressure, systolic and diastolic. Systolic pressure is the top, larger number. This represents the amount of pressure that is in your arteries while your heart contracts (or beats). During this contraction, blood is ejected from the heart and into the blood vessels that travel throughout your body.

Diastolic pressure is the bottom, smaller number. This represents the pressure in your arteries while your heart is relaxing between beats. During this relaxation period, your heart is filling up with blood for the next squeeze. Although both numbers are critically important, your doctor might be more concerned with an elevated diastolic number because this indicates that there is increased pressure on the artery walls even when your heart is resting.

How to Lower High Blood Pressure

If your blood pressure is high, don't panic. Most people can significantly lower their numbers with know-how and determination:

  • Diet. Follow the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) plan. Also, limit your alcohol intake, or better yet, avoid alcohol completely.
  • Weight. Lose weight if you are overweight.
  • Exercise. Become physically active and get some type of exercise at least four times a week. Check with your doctor before beginning any diet or exercise program.
  • Medication. For some people, diet and exercise are just not enough. In this case, your doctor might give you medication to help lower your blood pressure.
  • Smoking. If you smoke— QUIT!

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