High blood pressure: Are you at risk?

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High blood pressure: Are you at risk?

High blood pressure: Are you at risk? Learn the common risk factors.

High blood pressure, often called the "silent killer," can creep up on you without much advance warning. Over the years, daily habits, such as eating too much salty food, smoking or not exercising, can begin to take their toll. Combine those bad habits with other risk factors, and you can develop full-fledged high blood pressure (hypertension).

Your blood pressure is normal if it's below 120/80 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). Prehypertension is a systolic pressure ranging from 120 to 139 or a diastolic pressure ranging from 80 to 89. Prehypertension tends to get worse over time and, if you have high blood pressure risk factors, you could develop high blood pressure:

  • Stage 1 hypertension. Stage 1 hypertension is a systolic pressure ranging from 140 to 159 or a diastolic pressure ranging from 90 to 99.
  • Stage 2 hypertension. The most severe hypertension, stage 2 hypertension is a systolic pressure of 160 or higher or a diastolic pressure of 100 or higher.

Understand what your risk factors for high blood pressure are so that you can help prevent or delay the onset of high blood pressure and its life-threatening complications.

Medical conditions that can raise your blood pressure

Most cases of high blood pressure are known as essential or primary hypertension. This means your doctors aren't sure what the exact cause of your high blood pressure is.

However, certain medical conditions can cause high blood pressure. This type of high blood pressure is called secondary high blood pressure or secondary hypertension.

Some of the conditions that can cause secondary hypertension include:

  • Kidney disease. Damage to your kidneys from inherited or other disorders, such as diabetes, can limit your kidneys' ability to remove salt from your blood, which can cause high blood pressure.
  • Sleep apnea. A sleep disorder in which breathing is interrupted during sleep.
  • Renal artery narrowing. This narrowing of kidney arteries can cause a release of hormones that raise blood pressure.
  • Cushing's disease, aldosteronism and pheochromocytoma. Diseases that can trigger excessive production of hormones by your adrenal glands, which can lead to high blood pressure.
  • Coarctation of the aorta. A narrowing of the main blood vessel supplying blood from your heart to your body.

By effectively treating these medical conditions, you can typically get your blood pressure under control or even cure it.

Risks you can't change that can raise your blood pressure

Unfortunately, you can't control all of the factors that may increase your risk of high blood pressure. Three major risk factors for high blood pressure that you can't control are:

  • Race. Blacks are at higher risk.
  • Age. Being older than 55.
  • Family history. Having a family member with high blood pressure.

If you have any uncontrollable risk factors, don't simply assume you'll get high blood pressure eventually, no matter what efforts you make. That's not true. You may be able to compensate by changing the risk factors you can control.

Last Updated: 03/12/2007
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