7 Risk Factors For High Blood Pressure

Learn why your risk may be higher and what you can do about it.

man grilling chicken, grilling meat

Updated on February 22, 2024.

One in three American adults have high blood pressure (hypertension) and only 54 percent of them have it under control. And, if you can believe it, 20 percent of those with hypertension don’t even know they have it.

The most important part of heart-healthy living is recognizing the risk factors. While you can’t control all the factors that may increase your risk, monitoring your blood pressure more closely may help prevent serious issues like heart attacks, stroke, heart failure and kidney disease later in life.

If your blood pressure is under 120/80 mmHg, experts recommend checking it at least every two years beginning at age 20. If it’s higher or if you have any of the risk factors below, your doctor may suggest more frequent monitoring—and that may mean checking it at home.

Here are seven factors that can increase your risk for hypertension and what you can do to protect yourself.

Family history

Like many health conditions, if your parents or close blood relatives have high blood pressure, you can develop it, too. And if you or your partner has high blood pressure, your children may be more at risk. Research shows that certain genes and mutations may be associated with high blood pressure levels, and changes in DNA during fetal development may lead to hypertension later in life.

Be sure you and your family members always fill out medical forms completely and notify your doctor if you have a family history of hypertension.


As you get older, your risk for hypertension and cardiovascular disease increases. In fact, 65 percent of Americans over 60 have high blood pressure. Why? Over time your blood vessels and arteries lose flexibility and become stiff, causing increased pulse pressure.

Experts recommend a blood pressure screening at age 18, then every 3-5 years after that as long as it’s normal. Those 40 and older or those with an increased risk of high blood pressure will need to have annual screenings. If you’re between the ages of 65 and 75 with a history of smoking, ask your doctor about aneurysm screenings, too.


Experts believe African Americans are at greater risk for high blood pressure and are more likely to develop it earlier in life. Over 40 percent of non-Hispanic blacks have hypertension, possibly due to higher rates of obesity and diabetes. Researchers also think that African Americans may have a gene that makes the body more sensitive to salt, so consuming sodium causes a greater increase in their blood pressure than it would for those people who aren’t sensitive.


Your age and gender combined may influence risk for high blood pressure. Until the age of 45, men are more likely to be diagnosed with hypertension; from ages 45 to 64, the number of men and women with high blood pressure is even. During menopause a woman’s blood pressure may increase, and by the age of 65, women are more likely than men to have hypertension.

Pregnant women may also develop pregnancy-induced hypertension (PIH), also called gestational hypertension, which normally goes away after the delivery. In severe cases, PIH can turn into preeclampsia, a condition that may harm both mother and child.

It’s important that you monitor your blood pressure more closely during these life stages, so your doctor can recommend treatment right away if you start to exhibit symptoms.


It’s no surprise that extra weight may cause your blood pressure to rise—the harder your heart has to work, the higher your blood pressure. Additional weight can increase the resistance in your blood vessels, putting more strain on your heart.

So, how much weight is too much? A body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more is considered obese, and a body mass index between 25 and 30 means you are overweight.

Dropping 10 to 20 pounds can lower your blood pressure. Not sure where to start? Try reducing your daily caloric intake by 500, or upping your physical activity to burn an additional 500 calories per day. Just 30 minutes of moderate activity, like walking or biking, can help.


Eating a well-balanced diet is better for your body for many reasons, but it’s especially important for your heart health. A sodium-heavy diet can cause excess fluid in the body, which puts more pressure on the heart, while extra fats and sugars can cause you to pack on the pounds, too.

The American Heart Association recommends a diet full of fruits, veggies, beans, low-fat dairy products, whole-grains, lean meats and fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon and trout. They also recommend limiting saturated fats, trans fats, sodium and added sugars in your diet. The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (D.A.S.H) plan is an easy-to-follow, heart-healthy diet that will help manage blood pressure.

When you do opt for meats and fish, know that your cooking method can make a difference: Research presented at an American Heart Association meeting in March 2018 suggests that frequently eating meat cooked at high temperatures may up your risk of high blood pressure.

People who ate grilled, broiled or roasted meat more than 15 times per month had a 17 percent increased risk of high blood pressure, compared to those who did so less than four times per month. High blood pressure risk was also elevated by 15 percent for folks who ate well-done meat as opposed to those who ate meats cooked to lower temperatures. The researchers speculated that cooking meat at high temperatures may lead to inflammation and insulin resistance, which could in turn boost blood pressure. So if you’re a meat lover, scale back your intake, crank the burner down a notch or two and only grill or barbeque sparingly.


Lack of sleep makes your heart work harder, and can eventually lead to high blood pressure. In fact, one study of people aged 32 to 59 found that those who got fewer than 5 hours of sleep a night for several years were twice as likely to develop hypertension as people who got a healthy 7 or 8 hours each night. Another study discovered that every additional hour of sleep you lose increases your risk of high blood pressure by 37 percent.

Sleep apnea, a condition in which your breathing lapses up to 30 times per hour, is also a major contributor to hypertension. However, an analysis of 51 studies found that two popular treatment tools—continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines and mandibular advancement devices (MAD)—can be effective in reducing both your systolic and diastolic numbers.

What now?

If your blood pressure is between 120/80 mmHg and 139/89 mmHg, your doctor may recommend some lifestyle changes to reduce your numbers. If your blood pressure is 140/90 mmHg or above, your doctor may prescribe medications to take, too.

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