Blood pressure is the amount of blood pumped by the heart and the resistance of blood flow in the arteries. If the arteries are narrow due to disease, for example, blood struggles to flow through them. The heart pumps the blood, but if there is high resistance, it hits the walls of the arteries hard. High blood pressure occurs when the force of the blood against the walls of the arteries is strong enough to cause problems. 

There are two types of high blood pressure: essential and secondary. Essential hypertension indicates there is no known cause. Secondary hypertension occurs due to an underlying condition, such as obstructive sleep apnea or as a side effect of medication. Doctors may not always know the purpose of a person’s hypertension, but there are risk factors that can increase a person’s likelihood of developing the condition.

Causes and Risk Factors

  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Kidney conditions
  • Adrenal gland tumors
  • Thyroid conditions
  • Congenital defects
  • Medications such as decongestants
  • Illegal drugs like cocaine
  • Age — BP tends to increase with age
  • Race — Hypertension is common among African Americans
  • Genetics — Hypertension tends to run in families
  • Obesity
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Tobacco use — Including smoking and chewing tobacco
  • High-salt diet
  • Low-potassium diet
  • Stress
  • Excessive alcohol 
  • Chronic illnesses like diabetes


What foods cause high blood pressure?

Diet plays a vital role in managing blood pressure. At the top of the list of foods to avoid would be convenience foods like:

  • pizza,
  • drive-through meals,
  • processed dinners,
  • deli meats,
  • vegetable juice, and
  • canned soups.

Why are these foods considered to be so bad for blood pressure? Because they tend to be high in salt and fat; notably, table salt can push up blood pressure. One potential solution many people employ? Other seasonings and spices like garlic or cumin. They can provide flavor to dishes without the same sodium content. 

Individuals looking to maintain a healthy diet should also avoid trans fat and reduce saturated fats from foods like red meat, butter, and full-fat dairy. 

Why is age a risk factor for hypertension?

Blood pressure tends to rise with age for several reasons. For starters, the heart stops working as efficiently; specifically, the body’s natural pacemaker system can develop fat deposits. These deposits affect how the system functions, which can lead to irregular heartbeats. Also, the walls of the heart may thicken with age, meaning it takes longer for the organ to fill with blood. 

That’s not all, though. Arteries tend to narrow with age. That narrowing has a direct impact on blood pressure, which is the measure of the resistance of flow through these vessels. If they narrow, there is greater resistance and naturally higher blood pressure. 

Finally, an older body does not process dietary salt as well as a younger one. That means that as a person ages, the amount of salt they eat should decrease to compensate for this fact. If it doesn’t, the excess sodium in the bloodstream can drive up blood pressure.

The risk of secondary hypertension increases with age, too, especially in relation to kidney function. Namely, the kidneys don’t work as well, leading to renal hypertension.

What are the modifiable risk factors for hypertension?

Diet and Exercise

Modifiable risk factors include diet. One can consume less salt and certain kinds of fats, specifically trans and saturated. An increase in fruits and vegetables can conversely help improve weight and reduce the risk of hypertension, especially when combined with regular physical activity. 

Smoking and Drinking

Quitting smoking can bring down blood pressure as can reducing alcohol intake.


Obesity is a significant risk factor for hypertension. Someone who is overweight could lose even 10 percent of their body weight and see blood pressure start to come down.  

Disclaimer: this article does not constitute or replace medical advice. If you have an emergency or a serious medical question, please contact a medical professional or call 911 immediately. To see our full medical disclaimer, visit our Terms of Use page.

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