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Hypertension/High Blood Pressure Health Center

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Causes of High Blood Pressure

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What causes high blood pressure?

Blood pressure is the measure of the force of blood pushing against blood vessel walls. The heart pumps blood into the arteries (blood vessels), which carry the blood throughout the body. High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is dangerous because it makes the heart work harder to pump blood out to the body and contributes to hardening of the arteries, or atherosclerosis, to stroke, kidney disease, and to the development of heart failure.

What Is "Normal" Blood Pressure?

A blood pressure reading has a top number (systolic) and bottom number (diastolic). The ranges are:

  • Normal: Less than 120 over 80 (120/80)
  • Prehypertension: 120-139 over 80-89
  • Stage 1 high blood pressure: 140-159 over 90-99
  • Stage 2 high blood pressure: 160 and above over 100 and above
  • High blood pressure in people over age 60: 150 and above over 90 and above

People whose blood pressure is above the normal range should consult their doctor about steps to take to lower it.

What Causes High Blood Pressure?

The exact causes of high blood pressure are not known, but several factors and conditions may play a role in its development, including:

Essential Hypertension

In as many as 95% of reported high blood pressure cases in the U.S., the underlying cause cannot be determined. This type of high blood pressure is called "essential hypertension."

Though essential hypertension remains somewhat mysterious, it has been linked to certain risk factors. High blood pressure tends to run in families and is more likely to affect men than women. Age and race also play a role. In the United States, blacks are twice as likely as whites to have high blood pressure, although the gap begins to narrow around age 44. After age 65, black women have the highest incidence of high blood pressure.

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