What causes high blood pressure?

Lesley Dobson / 28 March 2017

What causes hypertension, who is likely to get it and what can you do to lower your blood pressure?



Do you like a sprinkle of salt on your meals every day? And do you enjoy a glass of wine with dinner and a coffee afterwards? These habits sound harmless enough, but they could be increasing your risk of high blood pressure.

The causes of high blood pressure cover a range of possibilities. Just knowing about potential triggers is one step towards having your blood pressure checked. And if your blood pressure is high, with the help of your GP and practice nurses, you can start taking steps to bring it down to a healthier level.

Read our guide to blood pressure

High blood pressure (hypertension) is when your blood pressure is 140/90mmHg or greater. We don’t know for certain what causes blood pressure to rise, but your daily habits can make a difference to how likely you are to develop high blood pressure.

Find out more about high blood pressure

Your diet plays a part in your chances of developing high blood pressure. Eating too much salt is an important factor, as is not eating enough fruit and vegetables. Fresh fruit and vegetables are vital components in a healthy diet, and have all-round benefits for your health, on top of helping to reduce your risk of high blood pressure.

10 foods that may help lower blood pressure

Not being active enough is also important in helping to reduce your risk of high blood pressure. It can be all too easy to be less active, and do far less physical activity as we grow older, but getting some regular exercise is important in helping to keep your blood pressure from increasing.

Lifestyle changes to help you lower your blood pressure

If you are overweight, this is another factor that increases your risk of having high blood pressure. Being overweight or obese can affect your health in other ways, so it is important to reduce your weight to what is normal for your height. It is also important to keep to a sensible weight-loss plan that includes elements of physical activity.

If you aren’t sure of the weight you should aim for, and the best way to lose weight, see your GP. They will be able to give you advice on the best approach to losing weight. It is important to discuss this with your GP, especially if you have other health problems that you are being treated for.

Smoking can also increase your risk of high blood pressure. This is one of a number of reasons why giving up smoking is so good for your health. There are a number of websites that can help you with advice on how to quit smoking. Cancer Research UK’s website has advice on what can help you quit - using specialist support and prescription medication has the highest success rate. The NHS Choices website also has lots of advice and information to help you give up cigarettes.

Read our guide to stopping smoking

Drinking a lot of alcohol and drinking a lot of coffee or other drinks containing caffeine can raise your risk of having high blood pressure, as can eating a lot of salt.

What is normal blood pressure?

Our blood pressure can go up and down, depending on what we’ve been doing, how stressed or relaxed we are, and on the time of day – our blood pressure is usually  higher first thing in the morning than later in the day.

The ideal blood pressure, and what we should aim for, is between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg. These figures show that you have a healthy blood pressure. However, the most common blood pressure readings for adults in the UK, according to the charity Blood Pressure UK, are between 120/80 and 140/90.

Systolic vs diastolic - what do the blood pressure numbers mean?

While these figures aren’t seriously high, it’s still important to discuss them with your GP, and find out the best ways for you to being your blood pressure down. This is because even if your blood pressure is only slightly higher than the ideal, taking steps straight away to try to reduce it will be good for your health in the future.

Bring your blood pressure down

content provided by NHS Choices

Who is more likely to develop high blood pressure?

Some people are more likely than others to develop high blood pressure. Men are more likely than women to develop high blood pressure, up to the age of 65. However, after 65, high blood pressure is more common in women than men. In total, in the UK over 25% of adults have high blood pressure.

New treatments for blood pressure

Having a history of high blood pressure in close family members increases your risk of high blood pressure. So having a parent or a sibling who developed high blood pressure before they were 55 (for males) and 65 (for females) means that you should see your GP about having your blood pressure checked.

People who are descended from African, Caribbean, Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi or Sri Lankan parents or grandparents (and further back), have an increased risk for high blood pressure, and should have their blood pressure check regularly.

People who have a family member with high blood pressure are more likely to develop high blood pressure.

Anyone with type 2 diabetes is more likely to have high blood pressure – and, to a lesser extent, people with type 1 diabetes are prone to it as well.

You won’t know that you have high blood pressure until you have it checked. Don’t leave it late to make an appointment with your GP. Early treatment for high blood pressure is important and can help you avoid serious health problems.

How to monitor your blood pressure

Julie Ward, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, says: 'The British Heart Foundation is doing a lot of research into the causes of high blood pressure, and why it happens. There is emerging evidence that genetics may play a role in being pre-disposed to having high blood pressure. We also know that if you have a family history of having high blood pressure, then you are much more likely to have it yourself.’

‘Also, there are certain members of society who are predisposed to having high blood pressure, and we think that this is a genetic connection. People of African Caribbean background are more likely to have high blood pressure, and we think that there may be a genetic reason for that.

‘We also know that people who are from, or live in deprived areas are 30 percent more likely to have high blood pressure. We think this is because of a combination of diet and environmental factors. Salt is important. People who have too much salt in their diet are far more likely to have high blood pressure. So it’s important to stick to the recommended six grams of salt a day (unless you have been advised by your doctor to have less). We know that salt damages the blood vessels and makes you more likely to have high blood pressure.

'We are, as a nation, eating too much salt. So the key thing here, is not to be putting salt on your food – there is enough salt in the food we eat to give you six grams a day. At the moment, a lot of people in the UK are having about 8 grams a day.

'So we don’t want people to be adding salt to your food, and don’t add salt to your cooking, don’t have salt on the table, keep an eye on your labels on the food that you buy, and look for lower-salt options. 

'There’s also lots of hidden salt in every days foods like bread, breakfast cereal and some pasta sauces.'

10 signs you're eating too much salt

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