High Blood Pressure: What Causes It?

I cannot forget the time when my mom had a terrible, terrible nose bleed.  She was hypertensive and on maintenance medications for it.  As she related, that day was particularly different.  She felt unusually hot and light-headed upon waking up.  Then, a throbbing headache ensued at around noon.  She was trying to relax when she leaned in to get a magazine, suddenly, blood rushed out from her nose!  Our aunt described it like it was the tap, turned on to full.  She was rushed to the hospital and had to stay there for a week.  According to the doctor, it was a near-stroke experience, caused by her high blood pressure.

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a relatively common term.  You might have heard it from your mom, uncle, or you might have experienced it first-hand. 

What is High Blood Pressure?

According to mayoclinic.org, high blood pressure is a common condition in which the long-term force of blood against your artery walls is high enough that it may eventually cause health problems, such as heart disease.

We know that we have blood inside our bodies.  They run in our blood vessels such as veins and arteries.  Like water running in the pipe, it creates pressure depending on different factors:  how much water there is, the thickness or thinness of the fluid, and the integrity of the pipes. 

blood pressure, ekg, health

BC Campus lists five factors that influence blood pressure, making them high or low.  They are:

Cardiac output, which is the volume of blood flow from the heart;

Peripheral vascular resistance, which refers to the compliance, which is the ability of a compartment to expand to accommodate increased content;

Volume of circulating blood or the amount of blood moving through the body;

Viscocity of the blood, which is the measure of the blood’s thickness; and

Elasticity of vessel walls, which refers to the capacity to resume its normal shape after stretching and compressing.

Basically, if these factors are increased, blood pressure will also be increased.  If these are decreased, then, blood pressure will also turn out to be low.

What causes high blood pressure?

A person who has a high blood pressure may or may not know he has it. This is one of dangers of this condition.  It has been dubbed as a silent killer.  Extremely high blood pressure can lead to heart attack, stroke and other complications including death.

Primary or Essential Hypertension

Most adults get the type that develops over the years.  This is called Primary or Essential Hypertension.  Because it develops gradually, most of the time, it has no symptoms.  It is usually diagnosed in regular checkups through tests like the Lipid profile, Echocardiogram, Electrocardiogram and other organ function tests.  It has no singular identifiable reason.  Based on Healthline, genetic factors may play a role in this type of hypertension, such as: diet, stress, minimal physical activity and obesity.

Genetics

If you know a family or relative who has high blood pressure, please get yourself checked.  As you know, family members share genes, traits, characteristics, behaviors, even diseases.  Like heart diseases and cancer, the risk for high blood pressure can also be passed through genes.

Age

When we age, we undergo physical changes in our body.  Not only do our skin change, our organs also go through changes. These structural changes in the heart or in the arteries can also cause high blood pressure.

hand, human, woman

Race/Ethnicity

High blood pressure, has been said, to have been more common in African-American adults.

Gender

Medline states that before the age 55, men are more likely to develop high blood pressure.  After the age 55, women are more likely to develop it than men.

Diet

Eating more salt and less potassium increases high blood pressure risk.  Why?  By osmosis, our kidneys remove unwanted fluid from our blood.  The excess fluid goes to the bladder and excreted as urine.  Kidneys do this through the interplay and balance of sodium and potassium.  Eating more salt increases sodium in the blood.  On the other hand, eating less potassium, which helps lessen salt in the blood stream, also leaves more sodium in the blood.  When excess fluid is not filtered and left in the blood, this causes high blood pressure.

Stress

Environmental factors, sometimes, contribute to stress.  In response to stress, our body produces a surge of hormones, which may cause higher heart rates and blood vessel constriction, and this indirectly contributes to a higher blood pressure. 

Although it has not been proven that periodical blood pressure increase due to stress has long term effects, it contributes to other factors that might increase blood pressure, including smoking, alcohol use and too much eating.

Minimal physical activity

Exercise or physical activity have been proven to improve the muscle including the heart itself.  It was, earlier mentioned that cardiac output is one of the main factors influencing the blood pressure.  The heart is the organ that pumps blood into the body.  A good functioning pump will definitely help improve blood pressure by lessening the force on the arteries.  This is inversely comparable to the body’s physical inactivity.

Smoking

Chronic smokers definitely have inhaled nicotine in the process.  Nicotine is not only the addictive component of cigarettes.  It also narrows the arteries and hardens it walls, which makes the blood to clot and therefore, produces increased heart rate and high blood pressure.

Alcohol use

A single alcoholic drink follows a short increase in blood pressure.  Prolonged alcohol use, however, also leads to sustained high blood pressure.  This may lead to atherosclerosis, which is the hardening and narrowing of arteries.  High in calories and sugar, continued alcohol intake can also contribute to obesity, which also plays a part in high blood pressure.

Secondary Hypertension

When hypertension is caused by an underlying disease, it is termed as Secondary Hypertension.  Unlike the Primary hypertension, this type develops abruptly and usually registers higher.  Like primary hypertension, however, secondary hypertension has no specific signs or symptoms.  Medical conditions that affect the organs like the heart, kidney, and endocrine system might cause this type of hypertension.  Some medications can also make the blood pressure go up such as birth control pills, cold remedies, decongestants, pain relievers and illegal drugs such as cocaine and amphetamines.  Even pregnancy might cause this type of high blood pressure. 

Kidney diseases

We, now, know that kidneys are responsible for filtering blood to remove excess fluids.  If medical conditions, such as diabetic nephropathy, polycystic kidney disease, glomerular disease, and renovascular hypertension, are present, the kidneys will not be able to work properly to do its job, leaving excess fluids in the blood stream, which then causes high blood pressure.

Endocrine system problems

Hormonal release due to stress play a part in increasing the blood pressure.  Therefore, problems with the hormonal or endocrine system, will cause release of particular hormones which influences blood pressure.

Hypertension may be caused by release of cortisol in Cushing’s Syndrome, of aldosterone in Aldosteronism, of adrenaline and noradrenaline in Pheochromocytoma, of thyroid hormone in thyroid problem and parathyroid hormone in Hyperparathyroidism.  These directly or indirectly increase blood pressure.

Heart problems

Since heart initiates the process of blood flow in the body by serving as the pump, any malfunction in this complex organ also tends to cause change in blood pressure.

Congenital defects such as Coarctation of the Aorta, forces the heart to work harder, thereby, increasing blood pressure.

Obesity

Obesity is a medical condition wherein a person has excess body fat or weight that directly affects his health.  Due to increase in fatty tissues, vascular resistance increases.  This makes the heart work more and these contribute to the rise of blood pressure.

Fat deposits also tend to release hormones in the blood stream causing high blood pressure.

Pregnancy

Gestational hypertension and Preeclampsia cause high blood pressure in pregnancy.  When a woman gets pregnant, new blood vessels form to supply blood to the uterus.  Sometimes, these do not form properly and this causes high blood pressure and damage to other organs.

Medications and supplements

Like how the body reacts to hormones released in the blood stream, it also makes a response when chemicals are introduced to the body from taking particular medications.  Anti-depressants, caffeine, birth control pills, and pain relievers are some of the medicines that cause drug-induced hypertension.

Illegal drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine and herbal supplements like ginseng and licorice may have the same effect.

pills, medication, tablets

How is blood pressure measured?

Fortunately, blood pressure is easy to measure.  A sphygmomanometer is an instrument used to measure blood pressure.  We, usually, just call it a blood pressure monitor.  When you go in for a consult, especially, in your 40s, this is usually taken along with other vital signs such as temperature and heart rate.

Blood pressure is measured in mmHg (millimeters of Mercury).  It is indicated by two figures that looks like a fraction.  The number above the bar line is called systolic pressure.  This is the pressure when your heart pushes out blood.  The number below is referred to as the diastolic pressure.  This is the pressure when your heart rests between beats.

According to nhs.uk, 140/90 (we read as 140 over 90) or higher is high blood pressure. 90/60 is low blood pressure and between this and 120/80 mmHg is considered to be the ideal blood pressure.

According to Medline, blood pressure readings has four categories:

 Normal Blood PressurePrehypertensionStage 1 High Blood PressureStage 2 High Blood Pressure
Systolic Pressure120120-139140-159160 or higher
Diastolic Pressure8080-8990-99100 or higher

How does a hypertensive person feel?

Earlier, I mentioned that most adults are not aware if they have high blood pressure.  Some people may have severe headaches, shortness of breath and nosebleeds.  A few people with extremely high blood pressure have fatigue or confusion, vision problems, chest pain, irregular heart beat and blood in the urine. 

What can decrease blood pressure?

Medical treatment for high blood pressure includes diuretics, ACE inhibitors, ARBs, Calcium channel blockers.  Sometimes, alpha blockers, alpha-beta blockers, beta blockers, vasodilators, aldosterone antagonists, renin inhibitors and central acting agents are also used. 

On the other hand, simple lifestyle changes can prevent and improve high blood pressure, such as:

Eating a healthy diet

Limiting salt intake and increasing potassium in your diet is the way to go to maintain the balance in your kidney activity.  It also would not hurt to avoid too much fatty and sweet food to avoid gaining weight.

Depending on your weight, a 1500 to 2000 calorie diet should be enough.  Certain methods of diet such as Intermittent Fasting, has also been proven to have positive effects on blood pressure.

tacos, mexican, eat

Regular exercise

Regular consistent exercise keeps off the weight and improves muscle tone, including the heart.  This will improve your weight as well as the pumping performance of your heart, thereby, improving your blood pressure.

A 30-minute moderate exercise per day should be enough.  Combine cardio and strengthening programs to reap the benefits.  This can be a good alternative to avoid medicating for blood pressure concerns.

Maintaining a healthy weight

By taking care of your diet and making sure to do regular exercise, you avoid obesity.  Fat deposits that can cause vascular problems will not be one of your problems.

You can compute for your healthy weight by looking into your BMI or body mass index.  This is taking into consideration your age and your height.

Avoiding smoking and alcohol

Aiming for a clean lifestyle, you should avoid getting into bad habits.  It will be very hard to quit if your body gets used to these habits.  Not getting started in the first place spares you of the rebound phenomenon, where your body responds by still increasing blood pressure when you are in the process  of quitting.

Managing stress

Finding what relaxes your senses is a must these days.  With a lot of stressors in the environment, you should know how to find your calm and center and be able to go there at a moment’s notice.  Meditation guides, as well as calming exercises like Tai Chi, Yoga, and Pilates, are among your options. Click here to read and learn more about self-love.

moon, woman, silhouette

Final Word on High Blood Pressure and its Causes

Understanding high blood pressure, especially its causes, gives us a clear view on what to avoid and what to do better.  The adage, “Prevention is better than cure”, never gets old in this context.  In a time, where even medications make you sick, you should do whatever it takes not to get sick.  So, get up and get moving! Eat right, stay happy and you’re on your way to a blood-pressure free worries!

References:

https://opentextbc.ca/vitalsign/chapter/factors-that-influence-blood-pressure/

https://www.alcohol.org/effects/blood-pressure/

http://www.bloodpressureuk.org/microsites/salt/Home/Whysaltisbad/Saltseffects#:~:text=Eating%20salt%20raises%20the%20amount,vessels%20leading%20to%20the%20kidneys.

https://www.healthgrades.com/right-care/weight-control-and-obesity/the-obesity-and-high-blood-pressure-connection

https://www.healthline.com/health/essential-hypertension#outlook

https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/changes-you-can-make-to-manage-high-blood-pressure/how-potassium-can-help-control-high-blood-pressure

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-pressure/symptoms-causes/syc-20373410#:~:text=High%20blood%20pressure%20is%20a,problems%2C%20such%20as%20heart%20disease.

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-pressure/in-depth/stress-and-high-blood-pressure/art-20044190#:~:text=Your%20reaction%20to%20stress%20may,your%20blood%20vessels%20to%20narrow.

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-pressure/in-depth/high-blood-pressure/art-20045206#:~:text=Regular%20physical%20activity%20makes%20your,decreases%2C%20lowering%20your%20blood%20pressure.

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/preeclampsia/symptoms-causes/syc-20355745#:~:text=Preeclampsia%20is%20a%20pregnancy%20complication,blood%20pressure%20had%20been%20normal.

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/secondary-hypertension/symptoms-causes/syc-20350679#:~:text=Secondary%20hypertension%20(secondary%20high%20blood,arteries%2C%20heart%20or%20endocrine%20system.

https://www.nhs.uk/common-health-questions/lifestyle/what-is-blood-pressure/#:~:text=As%20a%20general%20guide%3A,be%2090%2F60mmHg%20or%20lower

https://www.webmd.com/hypertension-high-blood-pressure/guide/hypertension-symptoms-high-blood-pressure

https://www.webmd.com/hypertension-high-blood-pressure/guide/smoking-kicking-habit#1

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