Blood pressure rises and falls for all of us throughout the course of the day. Keeping blood pressure in normal range is an important part of our physical and emotional wellbeing. High blood pressure can lead to multiple health complications and even death when left unmanaged, so it’s important to know what causes high blood pressure and how to prevent it.
Healthy blood pressure levels are generally defined as a systolic reading less than 120 (pressure in your arteries when your heart beats) and diastolic reading less than 80 (pressure in your arteries when your heart rests between beats), or 120/80. Once these numbers reach 130/80, you are likely to be diagnosed with high blood pressure or hypertension. So, what causes high blood pressure?
Your family medical history is one factor that causes high blood pressure. Genes contribute to the onset of hypertension, though environmental factors in family systems can contribute as well. Unhealthy lifestyle choices and smoking, for example, can lead to family patterns of high blood pressure across generations.
Diabetes is another genetic pattern that causes high blood pressure in combination with unhealthy lifestyle choices. A predisposition toward metabolic syndrome can be exacerbated with patterns like overeating, lack of exercise, or unmanaged stress. According to the CDC, 6 out of 10 people who have diabetes also have high blood pressure.
Excess body fat is a major factor that causes high blood pressure. When your body is forced to work harder to pump blood and oxygen to your body, it puts excess stress on your heart and blood vessels. Over time, this leads to heart disease, diabetes, and chronically elevated blood pressure. At present, about 70% of adult Americans are overweight at higher risk of developing high blood pressure.
The regular consumption of processed foods leads to higher levels of salt in your diet. This excess salt causes high blood pressure when absorbed day in and day out. Because unobservable genetics also influence how your body responds to sodium, eating a more plant based diet and swapping salt for other seasonings can keep high blood pressure managed or at bay.
When stressed, your body produces a surge of hormones that can damage your arteries and lead to heart disease over time. Even bursts of short-term stress can do harm to your arteries and is one of the causes of high blood pressure. During moments of relaxation, your blood pressure normalizes, so incorporating stress-reducing activities into your daily life can help prevent long term damage.
Pregnancy causes high blood pressure in one in every 12 to 17 pregnancies among women ages 20 to 44.3. Even women with normal blood pressure pre-pregnancy can experience high blood pressure during pregnancy. Knowing what to do before, during, and after your pregnancy can help manage or prevent hypertension and preeclampsia during gestation.
While lifestyle often causes high blood pressure, it’s also what can treat it. Making adjustments to your nutrition, exercise levels and intensity, sleep, and stress levels can help manage or even reverse chronically high blood pressure. If you’re struggling with high blood pressure, always consult your doctor to know if you may need medication assistance along with these healthy lifestyle changes.