What Can Raise Your Blood Pressure?

Medically Reviewed by Sabrina Felson, MD on September 12, 2023
3 min read

Your heart acts as a pump that pushes blood through your body. Without some pressure, your blood wouldn’t flow. It’d be like trying to blow up a balloon without blowing. But too much pressure against artery walls that have narrowed or stiffened leads to high blood pressure. 

High blood pressure (also called hypertension) is one of those health problems that doesn't have symptoms; hence it's known as "the silent killer." It can still lead to serious issues like heart attacks, congestive heart failure, and strokes. So it pays to know the risks of hypertension.


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, as are being overweight, and not getting enough exercise.

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 raise your blood pressure. 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.

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.