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Top 10 High Blood Pressure Risk Factors

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Updated June 15, 2007

There are many things which contribute to an individual's risk of developing high blood pressure. These things are collectively called "risk factors." Many diseases have important risk factors, and high blood pressure is no exception.

1. Age

Being older than age 55 is an important risk factor. Simply stated, the odds of developing high blood pressure increase as we get older.

2. Ethnicity

Being black is associated with a higher risk of developing high blood pressure. New studies are inconclusive on whether the risk is equivalent between African Americans and people of African heritage who have never left the African continent.1

3. Gender

At younger ages, women are less likely to develop high blood pressure than men. This risk equalizes later in life, but statistically, women are still less likely to develop high blood pressure, overall.

4. Family History

Having a family history of high blood pressure places you in a higher risk category than someone with no family history of high blood pressure. However, what this actually means is still a topic of research. It is clear that family history plays an important role in determining risk, but there are probably more important factors, and they are under your control.2

5. Smoking

Smoking is the number 1 risk factor over which you have control. Smoking is such a powerful risk fator for so many different human diseases that doctors are encouraged to ask every patient who smokes if they would like to quit - every time they visit the office! Quitting smoking is the best thing you can do for your health.

6. Activity Level / Exercise

A low exercise lifestyle leads to a weak heart, poor exercise tolerance, and obesity. All of which have been implicated in the development of high blood pressure.

7. Diet

While there is evidence that specific items, such as salt, can worsen high blood pressure in certain individuals, the main impact that diet plays in high blood pressure risk is that it is a big factor in how much you weigh.

8. Medications and Street Drugs

Certain medications can cause or worsen high blood pressure, as can a wide variety of street, or "recreational" drugs, like cocaine, crack, and amphetamines ("speed").

9. Kidney Problems

The kidneys are very important regulators of long term blood pressure, and damage to the kidneys - such as can occur from diabetes - almost invariably leads to high blood pressure.

10. Other Medical Problems

Hormone imbalances, certain anatomic abnormalities, tumors, and other medical problems can cause a type of high blood pressure known as secondary hypertension.

1Fejerman, et al. The effect of Genetic Variation in Angiotensinogen on Serum Levels and Blood Pressure: A Comparison of Nigerians and US Blacks, Journal of Human Hyptertension, Sept 14, 2006.)
2Winnicki, et al., 2006, Lifestyle, Family History, and Progression of Hypertension, Journal of Hypertension, 24(8)1479-87

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