What Can Raise Your Blood Pressure?

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on September 20, 2021

High blood pressure (your doctor might call it hypertension) is one of those health problems that can sneak up on you. You can have it for a long time without knowing it, it is known as "the silent killer." Often, it doesn’t cause symptoms right away. But it can still lead to serious issues like heart attacks, congestive heart failure, and strokes. So it pays to know what can lead to it.

Your heart acts as a pump that pushes blood through your body. Blood pressure is the force your blood puts on your blood vessels as it flows. The higher your blood pressure and the stiffer the blood vessel walls, the higher the force. Without some pressure, your blood wouldn’t flow. It’d be like trying to blow up a balloon without blowing.

What Boosts Your Blood Pressure?

You have high blood pressure if the top number is 130 or higher and if the bottom number is 80 or higher (referred to as 130 over 80, for example). Most of the time, doctors don’t know what causes hypertension, although it tends to increase with age.  Race and family history are risk factors But some things raise your blood pressure:

Being overweight. Excessive weight puts more strain on your heart and more pressure on your blood vessels. This is partly why physical activity and a healthy diet are so important.

Little or no physical activity. When you don’t move much, you usually have a higher heart rate, which makes your heart pump harder with each heartbeat. But when you exercise, your body makes hormones that relax your blood vessels and lower your blood pressure.

Too much salt. Sodium, which is in salt, can boost your blood pressure because it plays a role in narrowing your blood vessels and increases your total body fluid/blood volume. So it’s best to limit salt in your diet. You also need to get enough potassium, found in foods like bananas, potatoes, and yogurt. It helps to balance your sodium levels and keep your blood pressure in check.

Alcohol use. Over time, heavy drinking can damage your heart's muscle. If you drink, it’s best to limit yourself. For healthy women, that means one drink a day. For healthy men, it’s two drinks a day up until age 65, then just one.

Stress. Chronic stress can cause problems for your blood pressure. Also, it often leads to behaviors such as smoking and drinking that also raise your blood pressure.

Impatience and hostility. One study found that  these two hallmarks of the "type A" behavior pattern increase young adults' long-term risk of developing high blood pressure. However, other psychological and social factors, such as competitiveness, depression, and anxiety, did not raise hypertension risk.

Medical Conditions

Certain health conditions can cause high blood pressure. This is called secondary hypertension and is one of the few times when the cause is clear. For example, certain conditions, such as sleep apnea, kidney disease, and thyroid problems, can cause high blood pressure. Sometimes, hypertension can happen during pregnancy and requires special treatment.

How Does Blood Pressure Get Too High?

As your blood pressure climbs, your heart has to work harder to pump blood. Over time, that’s a problem because it’s like your heart is lifting weights 60-100 times a minute. Over time the muscle thickens (hypertrophies) which increase the risk for heart disease. Specifically

  1. Heart attacks cause the increased muscle requires more blood flow and are vulnerable cause the small vessels can no longer reach the entire muscle mass. 
  2. Heart failure (pump failure) cause the thickened muscle doesn't relax very well which makes the pressure inside the heart higher and higher.

Another problem is that your blood vessels are fragile and can only take so much force. 

Show Sources

National Health Service: “High Blood Pressure (Hypertension).”

American Heart Association: “What Is High Blood Pressure?” “The Facts About High Blood Pressure,” “Know Your Risk Factors for High Blood Pressure.”

KidsHealth: “Hypertension (High Blood Pressure).”

Mayo Clinic: “High Blood Pressure (Hypertension).”

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: “Explore High Blood Pressure.”

University of California San Francisco Medical Center: “Risk Factors for High Blood Pressure (Hypertension).”

CDC: “High Blood Pressure.”

Journal of the American Medical Association: “Psychosocial Factors and Risk of Hypertension.”

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