Common Causes of High Blood Pressure

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Filed Under: Blood Pressure, Heart Health
Last Reviewed 02/06/2014

Common Causes of High Blood Pressure

Knowing what factors lead to hypertension can help you prevent it

There are probably a hundred or more causes of high blood pressure (hypertension), but five of the most common are:

Your Heart

Although not the most common cause of hypertension, certain heart valve problems or a malfunction of the nerves in the heart muscle can cause increased blood pressure. These problems are difficult to treat naturally and very often require medication.

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Your Kidneys

The kidneys may seem unlikely organs to influence blood pressure, until you take a closer look.

Not only do your kidneys constantly clean and filter blood, they also regulate the volume of blood in your circulatory system. As nutrients are broken down in various cells throughout your body, the waste products created are deposited into the bloodstream. Your kidneys must sort through the blood, keeping necessary minerals to flush toxins and waste material into the urine (an important reason to drink lots of water every day).

One of the more important minerals your kidneys must regulate is sodium (salt)—the amount of salt the kidneys excrete or retain determines how much blood you have circulating. When you need blood, your kidneys retain additional salt. Salt acts like a chemical magnet, holding more water in the body, which increases blood volume. This explains how too much salt in your diet can exacerbate (or even cause) high blood pressure. It also explains how diuretics lower blood pressure. Diuretics keep the kidneys from holding onto salt and other minerals. Using diuretics may be the simplest way to lower blood pressure, but they can upset your mineral balance, causing a whole new set of problems.

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Your Blood Vessels

If your arteries harden or become clogged (atherosclerosis), your heart has to pump harder to push blood through your system. Also, if the small circular muscles that surround blood vessel walls contract, the size of the artery decreases and it takes more pressure to push blood through. Like all muscles, the ones surrounding your blood vessel walls are controlled by the nerves, which can be triggered by the next cause of high blood pressure—stress.

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Your Stress Level

Most people think of jobs, money problems, or family situations when they think of stress. While these things often do contribute to blood pressure problems, there are additional (and overlooked) factors that place stress on the body and can cause blood pressure to increase. Here are three common examples:

  • Drugs (legal and illegal). Whether prescription or over-the-counter, drugs can raise blood pressure by triggering the nervous system. NSAID pain relievers are particularly well-known for this, although the offending substances can be anything from caffeine to cocaine. Even some nutritional supplements and herbal products can cause high blood pressure.
  • Pain, muscle tension, and misalignments of the joints or vertebra in the spinal column. This is why chiropractic adjustments to the spine can help lower blood pressure.
  • Poor breathing technique. Your breathing habits directly influence the health of your heart and blood vessels, and therefore your blood pressure. When you breathe properly your heart rate naturally accelerates as you inhale and decelerate as you exhale. This small change results in a smooth and consistent rise and fall of blood pressure, and the pulsating gently massages and flushes the walls of your blood vessels, helping to keep them elastic and supple.

Many people, however, breathe shallowly. Shallow breathing sets off a cascade of reactions in the body that can be a cause of high blood pressure. Your heart rate increases and the level of oxygen in the blood falls, which alters your blood's pH level and results in constriction of your blood vessels. Chronic constriction eventually leads to a narrowing of the arteries.

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Your Thyroid

An underactive thyroid gland can cause a long list of health problems, but few people—including doctors—associate hypothyroidism with high blood pressure. Yet one study showed that nearly a third of patients with high blood pressure and an underactive thyroid had their blood pressure return to normal when they were treated for the thyroid condition.

To find out if an underperforming thyroid may be the cause of your high blood pressure, take your basal body temperature. You can also ask your doctor for a blood test, but blood tests aren’t the best way of detecting an underactive thyroid.

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More Dr. Williams Advice on Blood Pressure

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