High blood pressure, also called hypertension, develops due to many different factors. People who have pre-hypertension are at higher risk of developing high blood pressure.

Here are just a few of the things that can lead to high blood pressure:

  • Hormone levels in the body
  • Levels of salt and water in the body
  • Condition of the nervous system, blood vessels, or kidneys

If you fall into one or more of these groups, you are more likely to develop high blood pressure:

  • Obese
  • African-American
  • Drink too much alcohol in a day
  • Stressed or anxious
  • Use too much salt in your food
  • Family history of hypertension
  • Smoker
  • Have diabetes

What is High Blood Pressure?

You have hypertension if the pressure of the blood being pumped through your body is too high. Your blood pressure is represented by two numbers. The systolic pressure or the top number, represents the contraction of the muscle of your heart. The lower number (diastolic) is the pressure in your arteries when your heart relaxes in between beats.

In the past (before October of 2017), a normal blood pressure was considered to be 120/80; now, a normal blood pressure reading falls below 120/80. Elevated blood pressure without a diagnosis of hypertension includes a systolic reading of 120. The range for elevated blood pressure is from 120 to 129. A stage 1 high blood pressure reading ranges from 130/80 to 139/89. Stage 2 hypertension is a reading of, or over, 140/90.

Your doctor should take two different blood pressure readings from at least two different visits to their office. Contributing factors such as caffeine, stress, and “white coat hypertension” (stress and nervousness during a doctor visit) are also supposed to be considered.

What Factors Affect Your Blood Pressure?

For primary or essential hypertension, no definite cause can be listed.

Secondary hypertension develops because of an underlying condition:

  • Illicit drugs (amphetamines, cocaine)
  • Some prescribed medications (cold remedies, birth control, over-the-counter pain relievers, decongestants, some prescription medications)
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Tumors of the adrenal gland
  • Kidney issues
  • Thyroid issues
  • Blood vessel defects (congenital)

Risk factors include:

  • Too much alcohol
  • Advancing age
  • Lack of potassium in the diet
  • Race
  • Too much salt
  • Family history
  • Tobacco use
  • Obesity or overweight
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Chronic illness (diabetes, kidney disease)
  • Stress exacerbated by smoking, drinking, or overeating

How Does Alcohol Affect Your Blood Pressure?

Drinking four drinks or more can increase your blood pressure short-term. If you binge drink (drinking more than five alcoholic beverages in two hours), your blood pressure will be negatively impacted over the long-term.

That said, if you are a heavy drinker and you gradually cut your drinking back to moderate levels, you’ll benefit from a lower systolic blood pressure number (the top number). Your lower number (diastolic) should also drop. However, that doesn’t mean you should try to stop drinking cold turkey. Doing so may lead to the development of severely high blood pressure, which can lead to other serious health issues.

If you already know you have hypertension, you should drink alcohol in moderation. Men younger than 65 can drink two drinks a day; men older than 65 can have one drink a day; women of any age can have one drink a day. One drink is 12 ounces of beer, 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits, or 5 ounces of wine. You can find more thorough lists of what constitutes a drink if your drink of choice isn’t listed here.


Untreated high blood pressure that becomes more severe over time can lead to serious health conditions. If you experience a significant blood pressure spike and the following symptoms, call your doctor or go to the emergency room immediately:

  • Headache
  • Chest pain, also known as angina
  • Coughing
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Blurry vision
  • Shortness of breath
  • Anxiety, feeling restless, confusion, or fatigue
  • Limb weakness or numbness (may indicate a stroke)

Mild hypertension doesn’t present itself with symptoms. This is why high blood pressure has been referred to as the “silent killer”. Unless your doctor detects your high blood pressure during several visits to their office, you likely won’t know you suffer from this condition. Have your blood pressure regularly checked or request a blood pressure monitor to use at home.

Because high blood pressure has such a close connection to other health conditions, it’s vital for you to get regular blood pressure checks, along with checks of your kidney function, and checks of any possible negative changes inside your lungs. Your doctor may also order a urinalysis to detect other changes or illnesses.


You may learn from your doctor that you have high blood pressure. If they tell you this, then they likely took your blood pressure readings at two or three separate office visits. After ruling out other causes, such as caffeine use or stress, they came to this diagnosis.

If you are over 50, the systolic pressure (the pressure reading when your heart beats) is of more concern. You’ll be given a diagnosis of “isolated systolic hypertension” if your top reading is greater than 130, but your diastolic or lower reading is less than 80.

Ideally, your doctor should put the blood pressure cuff on both arms. They do this to see if there is a difference in the reading. It’s also vital to use the correct size arm cuff.

Your doctor can make a more accurate diagnosis through a 24-hour blood pressure monitoring test. For this test, you wear a monitoring device on your arm for 24 hours and it takes periodic readings.

What are the Effects of High Blood Pressure?

High blood pressure is potentially dangerous. Untreated, it damages various organs in your body, including your blood vessels and brain. Your arteries will also begin to lose their normal elasticity, which slows the flow of blood through your body.

Even more dangerous, an area of one of your arteries may weaken from the high pressure. Eventually, this weakened area can begin to bulge out (an aneurysm). Over time, it will weaken even further, eventually rupturing and causing internal bleeding. If the aneurysm is in your brain or aorta, this is life-threatening.

You may also develop heart failure, coronary artery disease (narrowed arteries), or an enlarged left heart, in which the wall of your left ventricle thickens.

Your brain feels the effects of hypertension via:

  • Stroke
  • Transient ischemic attack or TIA
  • Dementia
  • Mild cognitive impairment

Your kidneys suffer effects such as:

  • Kidney failure
  • Kidney scarring or glomerulosclerosis

You may even experience a hypertensive crisis, which is a dangerous increase in blood pressure.


If you are diagnosed with pre-hypertension, it isn’t too early to start making lifestyle changes. Add regular exercise to your weekly routine. Ideally, you should exercise for about 30 minutes, five or six days a week. Try to be consistent about daily exercise. Swimming, walking, cycling, jogging, or dancing are excellent activities. High-intensity interval training and strength training are also good for lowering blood pressure. Exercise can help you decrease your stress level. You’ll learn to cope by changing your mindset.

Begin eating a healthy diet high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and low-fat dairy. You should also decrease your intake of foods high in saturated fat and cholesterol, decrease your sodium intake, cut down on caffeine and alcohol, and stop smoking. This diet and other sensible dietary changes may help you to lose any excess pounds you may be carrying. A higher weight leads to an increase in your blood pressure. It can also lead to sleep apnea, which is a disruption in your breathing that can also lead to higher blood pressure.

Your doctor may prescribe antihypertensive medications if you have stage 1 or stage 2 hypertension.

These include:

  • Vasodilators
  • Diuretics
  • ACE inhibitors
  • Peripheral adrenergic inhibitors
  • Angiotensin II receptor blockers
  • Central agonists
  • Calcium channel blockers
  • Combined alpha and beta-blockers
  • Alpha blockers
  • Alpha-2 Receptor Agonists


  • https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/new-high-blood-pressure-guidelines-2017111712756

  • https://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/index.htm

  • https://kcms-prod-mcorg.mayo.edu/diseases-conditions/high-blood-pressure/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20373417

  • https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/changes-you-can-make-to-manage-high-blood-pressure/types-of-blood-pressure-medications