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Common Causes of High Blood Pressure

written by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 5/18/2011

Blood pressure is the amount of force required for the heart to pump blood through the body. High blood pressure refers to a blood pressure above the normal level of 120/80 mm Hg. Consistently-elevated blood pressure levels increase the risk for stroke, heart attack and other serious conditions.

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    Heart Disease

    Coronary artery disease causes plaque to build up inside the arteries that carry oxygenated blood from the heart to the other organs and tissues of the body. As plaque accumulates, it slows blood flow and forces the heart to pump harder to push blood through the blocked areas of the arteries. This causes blood pressure to increase.

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    Diabetes

    Diabetes increases the risk of atherosclerosis, a hardening of the arteries. Atherosclerosis, like coronary artery disease, makes it difficult for the heart to pump oxygenated blood to other areas of the body. Existing high blood pressure further increases the risks of atherosclerosis, as high blood pressure damages the walls of the arteries. This causes calcium, cholesterol and other substances to form a plaque that can harden and block the flow of blood through the arteries.

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    Kidney Disease

    The kidneys rely on normal blood vessels to remove wastes from the body and control the amounts of electrolytes and fluids in the blood. In cases of kidney disease, the small blood vessels that supply the kidneys do not work properly. The heart works harder to compensate for these damaged blood vessels, which increases the amount of force required to pump blood to the organs. People with kidney disease undergo regular blood pressure monitoring to ensure that their blood pressure does not increase to dangerous levels. Kidney disease treatment often involves medications to control blood pressure.

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    High Sodium Intake

    High sodium intake contributes to high blood pressure because sodium promotes water retention. When the circulatory system retains water, blood volume increases, forcing the heart to work harder to pump blood to other parts of the body. The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans indicate that healthy adults should consume no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day. Those who have high blood pressure, kidney disease and heart disorders should not consume more than 1,500 mg of sodium per day. The Dietary Approaches to Stopping Hypertension (DASH) diet can help control high blood pressure caused by too much sodium. This diet involves reducing sodium intake and increasing potassium intake.

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    Obesity

    Obesity increases the risk for a number of health problems. Excess weight strains the skeletal system, increases the risk for diabetes and makes it more difficult to move properly. Obesity also plays a role in the development of high blood pressure. As someone gains weight, the body needs more oxygen and nutrients to supply all of the tissues. This increases the workload of the heart, forcing it to pump harder. Losing weight with a healthy diet and reasonable exercise plan can reduce blood pressure associated with obesity. Dieters should not aim to lose more than one to two pounds per week, as losing large amounts of weight quickly increases the risk of serious complications.

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    Stress

    Stress actually affects blood pressure, causing blood pressure to increase during high-stress situations. This occurs because of the fight-or-flight response that kicks during periods of physical or mental stress. This response causes the release of cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline in the bloodstream. The nerve cells also fire, which causes dilation of the pupils and an increased respiratory rate.

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    Smoking

    Smoking tobacco damages the walls of the blood vessels and contributes to the development of atherosclerosis. This means smoking cigarettes can eventually lead to high blood pressure. If you smoke cigarettes or chew tobacco, talk to your doctor about safe tobacco cessation methods. A doctor may recommend medications or other devices to help you quit this habit.

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    Thyroid Diseases

    Hyperthyroidism refers to an excess of thyroid hormone in the body. This hormone, produced by the thyroid gland, controls the metabolism of the body. Too much of this hormone leads to an overactive metabolism, which leads to heart palpitations, insomnia, fast heart rate, weight loss and other symptoms. Treatment for hyperthyroidism usually relieves high blood pressure and other symptoms of this condition.

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    Alcohol Consumption

    Dr. Sheldon Sheps of the Mayo Clinic explains that drinking more than three alcoholic beverages in one sitting increases blood pressure for a short period of time. Binge drinking and chronic drinking lead to increased blood pressure over longer periods. MayoClinic.com recommends reducing alcohol consumption to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women. Men over the age of 65 should also reduce their alcohol consumption to one drink per day. One drink equals 5 oz. of wine, 1.5 oz. of hard liquor or 12 oz. of beer.

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    Medications

    Some medications increase blood pressure or block the effects of drugs prescribed to treat high blood pressure. Cold medications with decongestants cause the arteries to narrow, which causes high blood pressure. Diet pills, especially those containing amphetamine-like substances, also raise blood pressure. Other examples of drugs that increase blood pressure include MAO inhibitors, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and corticosteroids.

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    References

    WebMD: Causes of High Blood Pressure

    MayoClinic.com: Sodium: How to Tame Your Salt Habit Now

    American Heart Association: An Overview of the Kidney in Cardiovascular Disease

    National Heart Lung and Blood Institute: What is Coronary Artery Disease?

    WebMD: Diabetes and High Blood Pressure

    American Heart Association: Atherosclerosis

    Mind/Body Education Center: The Fight or Flight Response

    EndocrineWeb: Hyperthyroidism: Overactivity of the Thyroid Gland

    MayoClinic.com: Alcohol: Does it Affect Blood Pressure?

    Dr. Alan L. Rubin: Knowing Which Drugs Raise Blood Pressure