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What are the risk factors for high blood pressure?

There are several risk factors for high blood pressure. Some can be controlled and others can't be controlled. The first is age: People in their mid-40s have a higher tendency to develop blood pressure problems. Another is race: The condition is more common in African Americans at an earlier age, along with complications. Other risk factors include family history, being overweight or obese, not being physically active, tobacco use, a high salt diet, a low potassium diet, excessive alcohol intake, stress and some chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, kidney disease and sleep apnea.

Dr. Dianne L. Zwicke, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Knowing your risk factors is the first step in preventing and controlling high blood pressure. Risk factors include:

  • Age — The older you are, the greater your chance of getting high blood pressure.
  • Heredity — High blood pressure can run in the family.
  • Race — African Americans, for example, are more likely to have high blood pressure.
  • Overweight — People who are overweight or obese are more likely to get high blood pressure.
  • Salt intake — Too much sodium (salt) in the diet can increase blood pressure in some people.
  • Alcohol intake — Too much alcohol can increase blood pressure.
  • Little exercise — Lack of exercise can lead to being overweight and increase your risk for high blood pressure.
  • Tobacco use — Smoking increases your blood pressure within the first few minutes of use.
  • Diabetes or other medical conditions — 7 out of 10 people with diabetes have high blood pressure. High cholesterol, kidney disease and sleep apnea also make you more likely to have high blood pressure.
  • Stress — Stress is hard to measure, but increased stress can lead to high blood pressure.
Dr. Ronald M. Firth, MD
Family Practitioner

Here are the risk factors for high blood pressure:

  • Family history: High blood pressure tends to run in families.
  • Age: In general, the older you get, the greater your chance of having high blood pressure. The most common age for men to first develop high blood pressure is between the ages of 35 and 50—and for women, after menopause.
  • Race: Especially African-American descent: African Americans have a higher risk for developing high blood pressure than any other ethnic group. Not only is high blood pressure more common in this group, but it happens at an earlier age and is often more severe.
  • Inactivity: People who aren’t regularly active have a 20 to 50 percent increased risk of developing high blood pressure.
  • Overweight and obesity: Excess weight puts a lot of extra stress on your heart and arteries. It not only raises your blood pressure, but makes you more prone to other diseases as well.
  • Diet: Many different elements of your diet can affect your blood pressure—including eating too much salt, drinking too much alcohol and having a poor diet in general.
  • Smoking: Each time you smoke a cigarette, it causes an immediate and significant rise in your blood pressure. Over time, smoking can severely damage your blood vessels.
  • Stress: One of the ways your body responds to stress is by raising your blood pressure to handle the situation causing your stress. Unmanaged and ongoing stress can keep your blood pressure high.
Dr. Richard E. Browne, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

The higher your blood pressure, the harder your heart must pump to move blood through the vessels. Age, sex and heredity can increase your chance of developing high blood pressure. Modifiable factors that affect blood pressure include smoking, being overweight, dietary habits and lack of regular physical activity. Some combination of diet, exercise and medication (if prescribed by your doctor) can control high blood pressure.

The factors that make you more likely to have high blood pressure are advancing age, smoking, a sedentary lifestyle and obesity. However, for most people, the cause of hypertension is not really known and probably has more than one source.

Although there are several risk factors for hypertension, family history is the primary one. If you have two immediate family members who developed high blood pressure before age 60, you have two times the risk, and your risk increases with each additional immediate family member who has high blood pressure.

African Americans and Hispanic Americans are more likely to develop high blood pressure than Caucasians. Studies find that having "Type A" qualities—being very driven, being a perfectionist who doesn't cope well with stress or know how to relax and having a quick temper—increases the risk of hypertension in men and may increase the risk for women.

Other risk factors for hypertension include:

  • increasing age
  • salt sensitivity
  • obesity
  • heavy alcohol consumption, defined as more than two drinks a day for men and more than one drink a day for women
  • use of oral contraceptives
  • an inactive lifestyle
  • high uric acid levels (over 7 mg/ml of blood)
  • regular smoking or use of smokeless-tobacco, like snuff or chewing tobacco

Risks factors for high blood pressure include aging (men reaching middle age and beyond and women past menopause are at greater risk), overweight or obesity, family history of high blood pressure, inactivity, poor dietary habits, tobacco use, excessive alcohol use and certain other medical conditions such as kidney disease, sleep apnea, aortic abnormalities and hormonal problems. Most of these risks can be decreased with lifestyle changes or medical therapy. Unfortunately, aging and hereditary risks cannot be changed, so therefore it is important to work on those risks that can be improved upon.

Intermountain Registered Dietitians
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

There are factors that have been proven to increase your risk for developing high blood pressure. Some of these risk factors are not under your control. But although you can’t change them, knowing what they are can help you realize the importance of reducing your risk in other ways.

  • Family history: High blood pressure tends to run in families.
  • Age: In general, the older you get, the greater your chance of having high blood pressure. The most common age for men to first develop high blood pressure is between the ages of 35 and 50—and for women, after menopause.
  • Race: especially African-American descent. African Americans have a higher risk for developing high blood pressure than any other ethnic group. Not only is high blood pressure more common in this group, but it happens at an earlier age and is often more severe.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.