6 causes of high blood pressure and methods to lower it
Blood pressure is probably one of those health characteristics you’ve heard about all your life, but haven’t paid much attention to your doctors’ readings before reaching the age range where it could become a concern. If this is the case, you’re not alone.
If you’re also wondering what blood pressure even is, you’re also not alone there, either. Basically, the body possesses an intricate framework of blood vessels that is composed of two specific types: arteries and veins, says Suneet Singh, MD, an emergency room physician and medical director at CareHive in Austin, Texas.
Blood that goes out of the heart is found within arteries while blood that returns is found within veins. Blood pressure is the measurement of the pressure of blood against the walls of blood vessels. According to the American Heart Association, normal blood pressure is less than 120/80.
“In general, when we discuss blood pressure, we are referring specifically to the pressure found within arteries because this is what correlates most with acute and chronic diseases,” Dr. Singh explains. “When people demonstrate a consistent pattern of pressures over this number, they are diagnosed with high blood pressure, also called hypertension.”
The two numbers in a blood pressure measurement are the systolic pressure (the top number) and the diastolic pressure (the bottom number). Systolic blood pressure is the amount of pressure against the walls of the blood vessels as the heart circulates blood throughout the body.
Diastolic blood pressure is the amount of pressure within the blood vessels as the heart relaxes in between beats. Hypertension can affect either pressure or both simultaneously, Dr. Singh says.
So what happens if you do get a reading that may be cause for concern? Since high blood pressure isn’t known to come with any obvious systems, you can’t really know you have it until you’re being diagnosed.
Fortunately, you should be in a healthcare setting when this happens, and your provider should be able to explain your diagnosis and go over lifestyle modifications to implement to bring it down. Here’s what all you need to know about high blood pressure causes and how to treat it.
What causes high blood pressure?
According to Dr. Singh, hypertension is broken down into two types: primary and secondary. Primary hypertension, also called essential hypertension, has no identifiable cause and is the most common form of high blood pressure. Disposition towards primary hypertension is mostly attributed to:
“Genetic factors, as well as lifestyle choices [related] to diet and exercise, may contribute to the development of primary hypertension,” Dr. Singh says.
“Secondary hypertension, on the other hand, occurs when the elevation in pressure has a readily identifiable underlying condition," explains Dr. Singh. Those causes can include:
Lack of exercise
An underlying condition such as:
Adrenal gland disease
Illicit recreational substance use
Some decongestant medications
What are the symptoms of high blood pressure?
Unfortunately, there are no specific and overt symptoms of high blood pressure. “It is for this very reason that hypertension is often called “the silent killer,” [if left untreated,] Dr. Singh says.
Though hypertension in and of itself is asymptomatic, if left untreated, it can lead to organ damage. From there, different diseases can develop with harmful symptoms.
Common examples include chest pain associated with heart attacks or weakness and dizziness that occur during strokes, Dr. Singh says.
How do I lower my blood pressure?
Once you’ve been diagnosed with high blood pressure, the first thing your healthcare team will do is test you for different conditions that cause secondary hypertension. “If they identify a problem, they will work with you to treat the underlying condition,” he says.
In all instances of hypertension, however, there are some basic measures that can be taken that can help lower your blood pressure as well as promote overall heart health, Dr. Singh says. These include:
Reducing salt, red meat, saturated fat, and alcohol intake
Getting regular cardiovascular exercise, such as brisk walking or running 30 minutes per day
Maintaining a healthy weight
Taking time to minimize stress daily
Avoiding all tobacco products like cigarettes and vapes
“If your blood pressure remains high despite making lifestyle modifications, there are several different medications available that can work on their own or in combination with others to treat hypertension,” Dr. Singh says. “Your healthcare team will work with you to determine which medication regimen is best for your personal situation.”
The bottom line: Since high blood pressure is asymptomatic, make sure you’re going to your regular doctors’ visits. The sooner you get a diagnosis, the sooner you can make healthy changes.