High Blood Pressure Center

High Blood Pressure Causes and Risk Factors

What causes essential hypertension?
Most often, doctors do not determine the cause of hypertension, or high blood pressure (HBP). In fact, 95% of high blood pressure cases remain without a specific cause and are called “essential” or “primary” hypertension. The causes of primary hypertension, while unknown, are likely to be a complex combination of genetic, environmental, and other factors.

What causes secondary hypertension?
“Secondary” hypertension is referred to as high blood pressure that is caused by an underlying medical condition or another factor that elevates blood pressure. Many different medical conditions are associated with secondary hypertension and can make high blood pressure more difficult to control. In other cases, hypertension may be inherited and passed from parents to children through the genes. Other underlying causes may include

Diabetes - Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes have been closely associated with high blood pressure and is generally caused by kidney damage (diabetic nephropathy).

Endocrine disorders - Adrenal tumors (pheochromocytoma, aldosteronism), thyroid disorders, and Cushing syndrome can all cause secondary hypertension.

Heart defects - Certain diseases and conditions, such as congenital heart disease, birth defects (coarctation of the aorta) and Mitral valve disease can also cause hypertension


Kidney disease - Kidney disease is the most common cause of secondary hypertension, particularly in older people. Diabetic nephropathy, renal artery stenosis, polycystic kidney disease and renal parenchymal disease are some examples of kidney conditions that can lead to high blood pressure.

Lung conditions - COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)

Medications - Both prescription and over-the-counter drugs can temporarily raise blood pressure or make existing high blood pressure worse. These medications include:

  • cold medicine decongestants containing pseudoephedrine
  • corticosteroids (ex. asthma medicines)
  • nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • oral contraceptives (birth control pills or hormone therapy)

Pregnancy – Pregnancy can induce hypertension in 5-8% of all women, and can even result in seizures (eclampsia) towards the end of the term of a pregnancy.


Sickle cell anemia

Sleep apnea

Risk factors
Certain traits, conditions, or habits are known to raise the risk for HBP ( high blood pressure). These conditions are called risk factors. For example, hypertension usually affects men more than women. Major risk factors for developing blood pressure include:

Age - Over half of all Americans aged 60 and older are diagnosed with HBP. Blood pressure frequently rises with age. The risk for developing hypertension is greatest for men older than 45 and women older than 55.

Ethnicity – High blood pressure occurs more often in African American adults than in Caucasian or Hispanic American adults. However, risks of hypertension do vary among different groups of Hispanic American adults

Family medical history - A family history of HBP raises your risk for developing hypertension, particularly if someone in your immediate family has been diagnosed with high blood pressure.

Personal medical history - You’re more likely to develop HBP if you have been diagnosed with pre-hypertension, diabetes and other endocrine diseases, as well as kidney conditions (renal artery stenosis, glomerulonephritis, severe kidney infections, impacted kidney stones, chronic kidney failure, etc.).

Gender - Adult men are more likely than women to be diagnosed with hypertension. But, younger women (aged 18–59) are more likely than men to be aware of and get treatment for HBP.

Overweight or obesity - You're more likely to develop high blood pressure if you have extra body weight from muscle, bone, fat, and/or water.

Unhealthy lifestyle habits - Long-lasting stress can put you at risk for developing high blood pressure. A number of other lifestyle habits can raise increase HBP risk, including

  • eating too much sodium (salt)
  • drinking too much alcohol
  • drinking too much coffee
  • not getting enough potassium in your diet
  • not doing enough physical activity
  • smoking

Following a healthy lifestyle helps some people delay or prevent a rise in blood pressure that can come with age. But what are the symptoms of high blood pressure? Continue reading here to learn how to identify the major signs and physical symptoms of high blood pressure here.

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