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Risk Factors for Hypertension

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A risk factor is something that increases your likelihood of getting a disease or condition.

It is possible to develop hypertension with or without the risk factors listed below. However, the more risk factors you have, the greater your likelihood of developing hypertension. If you have a number of risk factors, ask your doctor what you can do to reduce your risk.

Blood vessels lose flexibility as you get older, which makes it easier to develop hypertension. Although hypertension can develop at any age, risk begins to increase after 35 years of age. Hypertension is most common in people aged 65 years and older.

Men are generally at greater risk for hypertension than pre-menopausal women, but women's risk increases and is slightly greater than that of a man after menopause .

African-Americans tend to have higher rates of hypertension, develop it earlier, and have more severe hypertension.

Other risk factors include:

Genetics

Hypertension can be common in some families. If you have close relatives (parents, grandparents, siblings) with hypertension, you may be at increased risk of hypertension.

Specific Lifestyle Factors
  • Smoking —Smoking causes blood vessels to narrow, raising blood pressure. This repeated behavior can lead to permanent damage to the blood vessels and increase your risk of developing hypertension.
  • Excess dietary sodium —Excess sodium causes the body to retain water. The excess fluid circulates in the blood, creating more pressure on arterial walls.
  • Excess alcohol intake —Alcohol has negative effects on the nervous system and blood vessels, creating an increase in blood pressure.
  • Lack of exercise —Sedentary lifestyles are associated with other unhealthy behaviors, such as poor diet and weight gain. Moderate to intense exercise, done regularly, improves heart function and promotes healthy arteries.
  • Stress —Hormones released by your body when you are under stress can increase your blood pressure. This may aggravate high blood pressure in genetically susceptible individuals.
Medical Conditions

Certain medical conditions affect the health of blood vessels, impair circulation, and make the heart work harder to circulate blood. Over time these conditions can lead to hypertension. Some conditions contribute to hypertension slowly, over a long period of time. These conditions include:

  • Obesity
  • Glucose intolerance or diabetes
  • Metabolic syndrome —This condition is marked by elevated blood pressure, cholesterol, blood glucose, and body weight. Excess weight centered around the midsection is of particular concern.
  • Sleep apnea —Breathing stops for brief periods of time while you are sleeping.

Other conditions can create a more rapid increase in blood pressure. These include:

Pre-eclampsia is an increase in blood pressure during pregnancy. In most cases, blood pressure normalizes after the baby's birth. However, having a history of preeclampsia increases your risk of developing hypertension.

Certain Medications

Some medications cause blood vessels to constrict, which makes your blood pressure rise. Over time, this increases your risk of hypertension. Some of these include:

  • Oral contraceptives —Taking oral contraceptives may increase your risk of hypertension in certain situations. You are more likely to develop hypertension while taking oral contraceptives if you:
    • Have a family history of hypertension
    • Have kidney disease
    • Are overweight
    • Had hypertension during pregnancy
  • Other medications—Certain medications can increase your risk of high blood pressure and/or interfere with medications you may take to lower your blood pressure. These include:
    • Steroids
    • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as naproxen and ibuprofen
    • Decongestants
    • Diet pills
    • Antidepressants

Revision Information

  • Jolly S1, Vittinghoff E, et al. Higher cardiovascular disease prevalence and mortality among younger blacks compared to whites. Am J Med. 2010; 123(9):811-818.

  • Risk factors for hypertension. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated February 4, 2014. Accessed February 26, 2014.

  • Understand your risk for high blood pressure. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HighBloodPressure/UnderstandYourRiskforHighBloodPressure/Understand-Your-Risk-for-High-Blood-Pressure%5FUCM%5F002052%5FArticle.jsp. Updated September 3, 2013. Accessed February 26, 2014.

  • Who is at risk for high blood pressure? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/hbp/atrisk.html. Updated August 2, 2012. Accessed February 26, 2014.