12 Shocking Causes of High Blood Pressure

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), more than 100 million people in the United States are living with high blood pressure (HBD).

And that’s a big problem.

What are the dangers of untreated hypertension?

This condition is often called “the silent killer” because it has no symptoms or warning signs, even if blood pressure is dangerously high. Certain individuals experience nosebleeds, headaches or shortness of breath, but these symptoms are not exclusive to high blood pressure. So, they typically go unnoticed until it’s too late.

How does HBP kill?

With no initial symptoms, the heart works harder than normal to pump blood to the body, leading to a variety of complications, even death, if left untreated. Specifically, hypertension can damage vital organs, including the brain, heart, kidneys, and eyes.

This damage can lead to:

  • Stroke
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Heart attack
  • Peripheral artery disease
  • Aneurysms

The best way to stop high blood pressure?

Since there are practically no visible signs that HBP has developed, the best way to stop HBP is to prevent it from happening in the first place. That means that—in addition to regularly checking blood pressure—knowing what causes HBP is crucial to preventing its complications…

What is “the Silent Killer,” exactly?

First things first, though; those who don’t know what high blood pressure is need to know a little bit about the condition before they can understand the causes and risk factors of HBP better.

(Those who already know the following can click through to the next slide, where we begin discussing specific risk factors and causes of HBP.)

What is blood pressure?

The heart pumps blood into vessels that transport oxygen and nutrient-rich blood to all parts of the body. The amount of force the heart exerts when pumping is known as blood pressure.

At the time blood leaves the heart, blood pressure is at its peak. Pressure decreases as blood enters blood vessels throughout the body.

What is high blood pressure?

Hypertension is the clinical name for high blood pressure. It occurs when the heart exerts greater pressure than normal/has to work harder than normal to pump blood.

What’s the difference between primary and secondary hypertension?

There are two types of hypertension: primary (or essential) and secondary.

Primary Hypertension Quick Facts

  • Primary hypertension is the most common type of high blood pressure.
  • It develops over time.
  • The causes of primary hypertension are generally unknown and remain difficult to pinpoint. However, some factors that are associated with primary hypertension are genetics, sex (men have high blood pressure more often than women), age, and race.

Secondary Hypertension Quick Facts

  • Secondary hypertension is where there is a direct identifiable cause for hypertension, such as kidney disease.

What are the causes and risk factors for high blood pressure?

Doctors continue to struggle with the exact causes of high blood pressure. However, by and large, there are some generally accepted as factors that contribute to and cause high blood pressure.

The first one of these risk factors that can lead to high blood pressure? It can take the breath away—literally…

12. Smoking

It is a medical fact that blood pressure and heart rate increase with smoking.

How does smoking cigarettes increase blood pressure?

Nicotine is the main ingredient in cigarettes that raises blood pressure. It raises the heart rate while narrowing your arteries and their walls. This narrowing gives rise to an increase of blood clots. Blood clots, in turn, places stress on your heart. The result? Potential stroke or heart attack.

How does smoking increase plaque?

Smoking and second-hand smoke make a person more likely to experience increased development of plaque in their arteries. This condition is known as atherosclerosis, and it is accelerated by high blood pressure.

What are the effects of smoking on heart health?

  • Increased heart rate
  • Narrow arteries and artery walls
  • Increase of plaque in arteries

Like smoking, the following contributing factors to HBP are also largely lifestyle habits…

11. Obesity & Lack of Physical Activity

There is no shortage of evidence showing a direct correlation between obesity, lack of exercise, and HBP.

How does obesity increase risk of HBP?

Because of increased fatty tissue, obese individuals increase vascular resistance, which means the heart works harder to pump the blood to blood vessels. Additionally, being overweight or obese can lead to shortness of breath, which can also place added stress on the cardiovascular system.

How does physical inactivity lead to HBP risk?

Physical inactivity often leads to weight gain, which thereby increases risk of high blood pressure.

Conversely, regular physical activity is directly correlated to reduced blood pressure, loss of weight, and stress reduction. After all, physically active people tend to have stronger heart muscles, meaning their hearts can more easily pump blood.

Of course, diet goes hand in hand with physical activity…

10. Diet High in Salt & Fatty Foods

Diet is yet another lifestyle habit that can contribute to hypertension.

How does salt increase hypertension risk?

Research aplenty shows that a high-salt diet is a large contributing factor to many people’s HBP problems.

Why, though?

Well, salt (which contains sodium) causes the body to retain water. Specifically, it hurts the kidneys’ ability to remove excess water from the body. The result? Excess water stays in the body, which can strain blood vessels and, therefore, may raise your blood pressure.

How does a high-fat diet increase hypertension risk?

Fatty foods can lead to HBP for the same reason as salt. In other words, most fatty foods are full of sodium. Furthermore, high-fat foods may increase weight, and being overweight/obese are other risk factors for HBP.

Of course, what you drink can influence the development of HBP just as much as what you eat…

9. More than Two Alcoholic Drinks a Day

Drinking more than one or two alcoholic drinks every 24-hour period is definitively correlated to increased risk of high blood pressure.

How much alcohol is too much?

The answer to that question varies by individual, as every person processes alcohol differently. Commonly, though, drinking 3 or more alcoholic beverages means that blood pressure will raise temporarily. Binge drinking also causes a spike in blood pressure; in fact, long-term binge drinking can lead to chronic (long-term) hypertension.

How does alcohol raise blood pressure?

Besides the temporary blood pressure spike, there are other ways alcohol can raise BP. For starters, alcohol is high in sugar and calories, which can lead to weight gain.

Alcohol can also negatively interact with blood pressure medications. So, those already diagnosed with hypertension should be especially cautious about drinking.

The following contributor to high blood pressure? Unfortunately, it’s a part of life that’s hard to avoid…

8. High Levels of Stress

Everyone experiences stress from time to time. When someone consistently experiences high levels of stress though, it can become a problem.

How can stress lead to hypertension?

When someone is stressed, the body releases a flood of hormones that stimulate the nervous system. Most people know this reaction as the body’s natural fight-or-flight response. As a result of this response, heart rate increases and blood vessels narrow, which means BP increases.

Now, a fight-or-flight response readies the body to combat or evade a perceived threat. When there is a one-time or once in a blue moon threat, this response is perfectly natural. However, long-term exposure to stress can mean a nearly constant state of anxiety. That means physical changes occur (which include HBP) that are not good to experience long term.

Hypertension can also be an indirect result of stress.

Hormonal surges aren’t the only ways that stress can induce high blood pressure. After all, many people cope with their stress with unhealthy habits like smoking, drinking alcohol, and overeating—all of which can lead to an increase in blood pressure.

Don’t forget about environmental stressors.

Your environment also has an enormous impact on blood pressure. The following are a few example of “environmental stressors,” which are associated with high blood pressure:

  • Regional temperature
  • Air pollution
  • Climate changes
  • Noise
  • Altitude
  • Time of day

How do environmental stressors cause hypertension?

These stressors can contribute to poor lifestyle and diet choices that can lead to hypertension. For example, individuals living in warmer climates are more likely to engage in outdoor activities and are less likely to be obese.

Conversely, colder climates are more conducive to a sedentary lifestyle, which leads to greater risk of reduced physical activity, obesity, changes in mood, and an increase in stress—all of which can lead to hypertension.

What about diseases?

It’s not just lifestyle factors that can increase blood pressure; certain diseases and conditions can raise blood pressure as well…

7. Chronic Kidney Disease

One such disease that can lead to high blood pressure? Chronic kidney disease.

How does chronic kidney disease cause high blood pressure?

How chronic kidney disease affects blood pressure is a bit cyclical in nature.

Specifically, high blood pressure can stretch and damage blood vessels in the kidneys; this process causes them to become weak. This weakening results in the kidneys’ inability to remove waste and excess fluid from the body. And, if there is extra fluid present, blood pressure can increase.

What are the symptoms of kidney disease?

There are no early symptoms of kidney disease. However, once kidney function begins to decline, plenty of symptoms emerge. The main ones are:

  • Increased or decreased urination
  • Drowsiness
  • Vomiting
  • Darkened skin
  • Muscle cramps
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pains
  • Sleeping problems
  • Difficulty concentrating

While the following cause of high blood pressure isn’t a dysfunction of the kidney itself, it does affect kidney function…

6. Adrenal Disorders

Issues with the adrenal glands can also result in high blood pressure.

How can adrenal gland problems lead to high blood pressure?

The triangular adrenal glands are located on top of the kidneys; they produce a hormone known as aldosterone. Importantly, this hormone enables the kidneys to manage sodium, water, and potassium.

If too much aldosterone is produced, the kidneys will retain too much sodium and water while flushing out too much potassium. This process, in turn, leads to high blood pressure.

What are the symptoms of adrenal gland disorders?

Besides high blood pressure, some of the symptoms of adrenal gland disorders include:

  • Moodiness
  • High glucose (blood sugar) levels
  • Muscle and bone weakness
  • Skin problems

The following disorders can also affect blood pressure. However, they don’t have anything to do with kidneys. Rather, it’s related to a little butterfly-shaped gland in the neck…

5. Thyroid Problems

Both overactive and underactive thyroid can result in plenty of unfortunate side effects, including hypertension.

What is the thyroid and what does it do?

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in the throat that produces the thyroid hormone. Importantly, this hormone helps regulate metabolism, a process that affects every part of the body. So, thyroid issues can affect any body system, including the cardiovascular system.

How can overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) lead to high blood pressure?

Hyperthyroidism is also known as overactive thyroid. It results in an increased output of the thyroid hormone. The result of this output? Increased cardiac output, which can mean faster heart rate and high blood pressure.

What are the symptoms of hyperthyroidism?

Besides high blood pressure, hyperthyroidism can also lead to:

  • Increased hunger
  • Heat intolerance
  • Excessive sweating
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability and moodiness
  • Irregular menstruation
  • Hair loss
  • Heart palpitations
  • Muscle weakness
  • Weight loss

How can underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) lead to HBP?

Now, sometimes the thyroid produces too few hormones; this condition is known as hypothyroidism. Unfortunately, this condition can also lead to HBP.

How, though?

It’s a combination of issues. You see, with hypothyroidism, heart muscles and heart rate weaken, which can reduce the heart’s natural ability to pump blood as well as it should. Additionally, hypothyroidism can cause the walls of blood vessels to thicken. Combined, these symptoms can cause the heart to work much, much harder to pump blood (hypertension).

What are the symptoms of hypothyroidism?

Besides high blood pressure, hypothyroidism can also lead to:

  • Fatigue
  • Feeling cold
  • Hair loss
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Weight gain
  • Dry skin
  • Brittle nails

Sometimes the cause of high blood pressure is something that only occurs when you’re resting…

4. Sleep Apnea

Blood pressure is supposed to be at its lowest at night when you are sleeping. If you have sleep apnea, however, your blood pressure may elevate. It is thought that 22 million people in the United States deal with sleep apnea.

What is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)?

Sleep apnea is a condition where someone suddenly starts and stops breathing throughout the night while sleeping. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common type of this condition. It results from relaxed throat muscles obstructing airways.

How does OSA cause high blood pressure?

Obstructive sleep apnea results in sudden drops in blood oxygen levels. This drop is a direct result of intermittent stopping of breathing. Reduced oxygen levels cause the body to increase oxygen supply to the heart and brain, causing a spike in blood pressure.


Because the cardiovascular system needs to work extra hard to deliver much-needed oxygen to the body.

What are the symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea?

High blood pressure isn’t the only symptom of obstructive sleep apnea. Some other symptoms of this condition include:

  • Excessive snoring
  • Gasping for air
  • Frequently waking up during the night
  • Daytime fatigue
  • Irritability and moodiness
  • Memory loss

The following condition affects more than 30 million Americans; unfortunately, it also leads to several potentially life-threatening complications, including hypertension…

3. Diabetes

Diabetes affects millions of people in the United States every single year. Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes in the country; this debilitating condition means that someone has difficulty processing glucose (blood sugar).

What are the complications of diabetes?

Left unchecked, diabetes can lead to some devastating complications, including:

  • Eye damage
  • Sleep apnea
  • Nerve damage (diabetic neuropathy)
  • Kidney damage
  • Heart disease

How does diabetes affect blood pressure?

Diabetes can damage arteries, making them more likely to harden. Unfortunately, hardened arteries mean the heart has to work harder to pump blood throughout the body, which means high blood pressure.

What are the symptoms of type 2 diabetes?

Besides hypertension, some of the main symptoms of type 2 diabetes are:

  • Frequent urination
  • Increased thirst
  • Slow-healing wounds
  • Blurred vision
  • Sudden, unexpected weight loss
  • Recurrent yeast infections

While diabetes can be managed, there is no cure. Now, the next condition won’t last too long—just 9 months—but it can still result in dangerous blood pressure spikes…

2. Pregnancy

Pregnancy can result in a wide variety of complications, including high blood pressure. Unfortunately, pregnancy hypertension can be dangerous for both the pregnant parent and fetus.

How is hypertension during pregnancy classified?

People who are pregnant may suffer from one of three types of hypertension:

  • Chronic – develops before the 20th week of pregnancy or is present prior to pregnancy
  • Gestational – occurs after the 20th week and ends when the pregnancy does
  • Preeclampsia – develops after the 20th week of pregnancy and can lead to both parental and fetal death if left untreated

What are the symptoms of preeclampsia?

Besides hypertension, preeclampsia may cause:

  • Protein in the urine
  • Swelling in the legs
  • Headaches
  • Changes in vision
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fluid in the lungs
  • Water retention

Unfortunately, sometimes this condition causes no noticeable symptoms.

The most surprising cause of high blood pressure?

If your response to reading about this cause of hypertension was to immediately think of ordering birth control pills, you may want to wait until you read the following slide first…

1. Hormonal Birth Control Pills

Birth control pills may cause what is known as secondary hypertension, since the cause is able to be identified.

Why do hormonal birth control pills cause high blood pressure?

Taking birth control pills can increase blood pressure anywhere from a small to a deadly degree. Why, though? It all has to do with hormones.

Specifically, birth control pills containing the hormone estrogen can put someone at risk of HBP. Although it isn’t exactly sure why estrogen can increase high blood pressure, there is a definite link between long-term exposure to this hormone and abnormal blood pressure.

Always discuss your options with a doctor.

It’s important to note that high blood pressure doesn’t always occur when taking the pill. Additionally, non-hormonal forms of birth control (e.g., condoms) will not result in high blood pressure. Those who still want to remain on a pill may discuss options with their doctor that do not contain estrogen.

It is recommended that people who take birth control pills have their blood pressure checked by their physician every six months. Discussing other contraceptive options with their doctor may also be considered.

What’s next?

What’s most important to know for someone who thinks they may be at risk for high blood pressure?…

Take Control Of Your Blood Pressure

Since this silent killer often causes few symptoms, it’s important that people know the causes and risk factors of hypertension. This way, people can regularly monitor their blood pressure and lifestyle habits to keep this medical condition under control.

Know the causes and risk factors.

It is clear that there are certain factors beyond your control when it comes to high blood pressure. After all, some risk factors are unchangeable, like genetics. However, there are plenty of risk factors that can be controlled.

What are some lifestyle changes that can reduce risk of HBP?

Replacing bad, unhealthy habits with healthier ones is a start toward reducing high blood pressure. These changes can include:

  • Not smoking
  • Drinking 2 or fewer alcoholic beverages a day
  • Managing stress
  • Getting plenty of rest
  • Drinking plenty of fluids
  • Eating a balanced diet low in sodium
  • Attending regular check-ups with a doctor

While there is no plan that can completely eliminate the risk of high blood pressure, there are definite dos and don’ts to follow that will place you on the path to better living and better health.


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