What causes high blood pressure (hypertension)?

Samuel T. Rougas, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Both your lifestyle and genes can cause high blood pressure, but other factors can be involved as well. In this video, Samuel Rougas, MD, of Aurora Denver Cardiology Associates in Colorado, explains more. 
Cristian L. Dinescu, MD
Internal Medicine
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a common heart condition. Watch as Cristian Dinescu, MD, of Timberline Internal Medicine in Aurora, CO, explains why it's a top health concern, and how you can keep your blood pressure healthy.
Carmen Patrick Mohan, MD
Internal Medicine
Essential hypertension, or high blood pressure that does NOT result from another medical condition, has an underlying genetic component. In the Southeastern United States, hypertension has been dubbed “The Silent Killer,” because it can have no symptoms, is the number cause of heart attacks and stroke, and a person leading a perfectly healthy lifestyle can develop hypertension at any time simply due to inherited risk. 

Aside from a genetic predisposition to developing high blood pressure, the following factors also increase blood pressure: obesity, high alcohol intake, high salt intake, sedentary lifestyle, and aging. These factors are additive, meaning if a person is 65, obese, and consumes large quantities of alcohol, the risk for hypertension is much higher than if his or her only risk factor was age. 

The main hypertensinogenic factor is obesity. Each 10% weight gain is associated with a 6.5mm Hg increase in systolic blood pressure. Importantly, high blood pressure can be significantly reduced through healthy weight loss, a moderate exercise program, and salt reduction. Talk to your doctor about what makes sense for you.
James E. Mock, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
High blood pressure is caused by genetics, diet and lifestyle, says James Mock, MD, a cardiologist at MountainView Hospital. In this video he discusses how risk for high blood pressure rises with age.
Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
Most times we don't know a few causes that account for less than 1% of all high blood pressure are well known such as rare endocrine tumors like pheochromocytoma (I love managing patients with this one personally as it requires the skills of a cardiac anesthesiologist in managing the operating room period and a lot of coaching preoperatively by an internist, and since I am both I love caring for such patients) or adrenal cortical tumors etc... But the majority we call idiopathic or essential hypertension, which just means we don't know.

That said, a lot of people with high blood pressure end up with normal blood pressure after they loose some omental (belly) fat by going to a Mediterranean diet (see YOU ON A Diet and our waist loss plan on this website), and start doing 10,000 steps a day. We think that is both due to foods that relax blood vessels in this diet (See Go! Foods for YOU on 360-5.com for more info on that) and that fat inside the kidney capsule (like a Tupperware container that the kidney sits in) grows as your belly fat grows, squeezing your kidney and causing it to put out hormones intended to get it more blood flow.

So try more fruits and veggies, and more steps in your life, and more meditation.
High blood pressure (hypertension) affects an estimated 67 million Americans. In most cases, the causes of high blood pressure are not known. However, some things may increase your risk of developing high blood pressure. These include:
  • Heredity: High blood pressure tends to run in families.
  • Race: Black people have high blood pressure more often and more severely than whites.
  • Age: The tendency to develop high blood pressure increases as you age.
  • Obesity: People who are overweight have a greater chance of developing high blood pressure.
  • Lack of exercise: An inactive lifestyle may contribute to being overweight, which is a risk factor for high blood pressure.
  • Excessive alcohol use: Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol can increase blood pressure.
  • Too much dietary salt: Heavy use of salt can increase blood pressure.
  • Oral contraceptives: Women who take the pill have an increased chance of developing high blood pressure, especially if they also smoke.
  • Other diseases: Having chronic kidney disease increases your chance of developing high blood pressure.
High blood pressure is much less common in children than adults. Regular blood pressure checkups should begin during childhood and continue throughout life.
Joseph H. Henderson, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
High blood pressure is common in westernized countries and tends to trend upward with age. There are many things that aggravate high blood pressure, including excessive sodium consumption, excessive alcohol consumption, sleep apnea (abnormal snoring and breathing at night), and being overweight.

The contents of this website are for informational purposes only and are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Nor does the contents of this website constitute the establishment of a physician patient or therapeutic relationship. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
Joel H. Fuhrman, MD
Family Medicine
High blood pressure is mostly the result of a poor diet, lack of exercise, and excessive salt consumption, but according to the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, salt consumption is a significantly bigger risk factor than the other elements.
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The 90 to 95% of hypertension cases in which the cause can't be determined are called essential or primary hypertension cases. Hypertension may also be a symptom of an identified problem (see below) that generally corrects itself when the identified cause is corrected. This type of high blood pressure is called secondary hypertension. Possible causes of secondary hypertension include:
  • renal artery stenosis (narrowing of the arteries leading to your kidneys)
  • adrenal gland disease (Cushing's disease) or adrenal tumors
  • kidney disease
  • preeclampsia (hypertension and increased urine protein levels sometimes caused by pregnancy)
  • thyroid disease
  • a large intake of licorice root extract (equivalent to 25 to 40 licorice candies a day for several years)
Other factors affecting blood pressure include:
  • use of birth control pills
  • psychologic stress
  • severe pain
  • drug or alcohol withdrawal
  • use of amphetamines, cocaine or other stimulants
  • Use of steroids
  • overuse of nicotine nasal sprays, gum, patches and lozenges designed to help smokers kick the habit
  • sleep apnea
The exact cause of hypertension is not known. However, several factors can contribute to high blood pressure such as:
  • Family history
  • Overweight/obesity 
  • Excessive alcohol intake
  • Inactive lifestyle/lack of exercise
  • A high-salt and/or a high-fat diet
  • High intake of caffeine
  • Smoking
  • Stress
Indie F. Jones, MD
Most cases of hypertension fall into the catagory of "essential hypertension" which means that there is no identifiable direct cause. Many factors can place you at risk which include family history and aging. Blood pressure itself is very dynamic which means it fluctuates throughout the day and is affected by the time of day, position in which it is measured, and your level of activity prior to measuring. Hypertension can not be diagnosed with a single measurement and should be monitored routinely once an official diagnosis is made.
There are two types of hypertension: primary and secondary. Primary hypertension develops slowly over time, and the reasons for this are still unknown. Most cases of hypertension (about 90 percent) fall into this category. Secondary hypertension is hypertension that is caused by another condition, such as kidney disease or adrenal/hormonal disorders, or by the use of some medications. Secondary hypertension tends to develop more quickly.

Tests can be done to find out if there is an underlying medical condition causing your hypertension. Your doctor will give you a thorough physical examination to detect any problems in your abdomen, kidneys, and eyes, as conditions in these areas sometimes cause hypertension. Urinalysis is used to check for kidney problems. Blood tests may be done to check levels of potassium, sodium, and red blood cells. Electrocardiography can detect any changes to or weaknesses in your heart.

Continue Learning about Hypertension



Clinically known as hypertension, high blood pressure can cause a host of problems if left untreated. The most common type of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure causes our hearts to work harder by forcing blood to push ag...

ainst the walls of our arteries at an elevated level. Hypertension is the leading cause of strokes and heart attack. It also increases your risk of having heart and kidney failure and hardening of the arteries, a condition called atherosclerosis.

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.