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What is high blood pressure?

What is high blood pressure? High blood pressure, or hypertension, is when that pressure of one’s blood pushing against the walls of blood vessels is consistently too high and reaches unhealthy levels.

Sohela Chowdhury
February 11, 2021

In order to survive, our tissues and organs need oxygenated blood to circulate throughout the body. When our heartbeats, it creates pressure that pushes blood through a network of blood vessels. Blood pressure helps us measures how much blood is passing through our blood vessels and the amount of resistance the blood meets while the heart is pumping.

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is when that pressure of one’s blood pushing against the walls of blood vessels is consistently too high and reaches unhealthy levels. When that happens, the heart and blood vessels have to work harder and less efficiently, which damages the delicate tissues inside the arteries. As the damage increases, plaque forms along with the tears in the artery walls which can ultimately lead to other conditions including heart attacks and stroke.

High blood pressure can be a “silent killer”

It may not feel like something is wrong because high blood pressure often develops over the course of several years. High blood pressure slowly damages your circulatory system, it can be quietly affecting you which makes it that much more dangerous.

What causes high blood pressure?

In most cases, doctors can't point to the exact cause. But several things are known to raise blood pressure, including being very overweight, drinking too much alcohol, having a family history of high blood pressure, eating too much salt, and getting older. Blood pressure may also arise if we are not very active, don't eat enough potassium, or have a condition called insulin resistance.

There are 2 types of blood pressure

  • Primary, or essential, high blood pressure is the most common type of high blood pressure. For most people who get this kind of blood pressure, it develops over time as you get older.
  • Secondary high blood pressure is caused by another medical condition or by the use of certain medicines. It usually gets better after you treat that condition or stop taking the medicines that are causing it.

In over 90% of cases, the cause of high blood pressure (hypertension) is unknown but several factors can increase your risk of developing the condition. 

Where there is no specific cause, high blood pressure is referred to as primary high blood pressure (or essential high blood pressure).

Factors that can raise your risk of developing primary high blood pressure include:

  • age: the risk of developing high blood pressure increases as you get older
  • a family history of high blood pressure (the condition seems to run in families)
  • a high-fat diet
  • a high amount of salt in your food
  • a lack of exercise
  • being overweight
  • smoking
  • drinking large amounts of alcohol
  • stress

About 1 in 10 cases of high blood pressure are the result of an underlying condition or cause. These cases are referred to as secondary high blood pressure.

Common causes of secondary high blood pressure include:

  • kidney disease
  • diabetes
  • narrowing of the arteries (large blood vessels) supplying the kidneys
  • hormonal conditions, such as Cushing's syndrome (a condition where your body produces an excess of steroid hormones)
  • conditions that affect the body's tissue, such as lupus
  • oral contraceptive pill
  • painkillers, known as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), s
  • recreational drugs, such as cocaine, amphetamines and crystal methamphetamine
  • herbal remedies, such as herbal supplements

About the author
Sohela Chowdhury

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