What Causes High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, can lead to heart disease and stroke. It is known as the silent killer because most people with high blood pressure do not have any symptoms even if they have had high blood pressure for years.

Your primary care provider typically checks your blood pressure during your routine wellness exam. Regularly scheduling screening can help detect problems earlier.

There are two numbers that make up your blood pressure - systolic blood pressure, the top number that signifies your peak blood pressure when your heart is squeezing blood and diastolic blood pressure, the bottom number that measures the pressure when your heart is filling with blood.

  • Normal blood pressure range is less than 120 on top and less than 80 on the bottom.
  • Prehypertension levels are 120-139 on top and 80-89 on the bottom.
  • High blood pressure, stage 1 is 140-159 on top and 90-99 on the bottom.
  • High blood pressure, stage 2 is 160 or higher on top and 100 and over on the bottom.

“There are a lot of things that can cause hypertension and sometimes we have patients who are asymptomatic,” said Roberta Turner, NP at Portneuf Primary Care Clinic. “We also see a number of obese and overweight patients. Obesity can lead to high blood pressure, in fact, that's probably one of the most common causes.”

There are two types of high blood pressure, primary hypertension and secondary hypertension.

Primary hypertension develops gradually over many years without an identifiable cause. Whereas, secondary hypertension appears more immediately with conditions that may include sleep apnea, kidney-problems, adrenal gland tumors, thyroid problems, birth defects such as congenital heart disease, medications such as birth control, cold medicine, decongestants, over-the-counter pain relievers and prescription drugs, as well as illegal drugs such as cocaine and amphetamines.

High blood pressure also has many risk factors. The most common risks include:

  • Age- high blood pressure becomes more common as you age
  • Race- African heritage has a higher risk of high blood pressure at a younger age
  • Family history- tends to run in families; being overweight, the more weight, more blood is needed to supply oxygen and nutrients to the tissues.
  • Other controllable risk factors include lack of physical activity, tobacco use, high levels of sodium, alcohol use and stress.

Turner said, “Diets, especially in the United States tend to be a little higher in salt or sodium that can contribute to high blood pressure.”

The longer you have uncontrolled high blood pressure, the greater the complications. Having excessive pressure on your artery walls may damage blood vessels and organs in the body. The pressure of your arteries may cause it to harden or thicken, potentially leading to heart attacks, strokes, or other complications. High blood pressure can also lead to an aneurysm, an enlargement of an artery caused by a weakening of the artery wall.

“High blood pressure can lead to strokes, kidney problems,” said Turner. “Try to stay as healthy as possible would be the optimal thing to control high blood pressure.”

As part of an annual effort to keep hearts healthy in our communities, Portneuf Medical Center is offering Heart Screenings during the month of February. For $16, adults can have their blood drawn and tested for total cholesterol, LDL, HDL, triglyceride and VLDL. These tests can indicate your risk factors for heart disease.

The reduced fee labs are open to everyone. To learn more, visit www.portneuf.org/service/lab/.