Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of the arteries as the heart pumps blood.
If this pressure remains consistently high, it can cause many complications in the body.
Left untreated, high blood pressure can lead to health problems such as heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, and more.
What Is Considered High Blood Pressure?
If your doctor consistently reads your blood pressure as 140/90 mmHg (millimeters of mercury) or higher, you will most likely be diagnosed with high blood pressure.
Hypertension is a very common condition, in both developing countries and industrialized nations.
In fact, according to the American Heart Association, more than 76 million Americans over age 20 — or 1 in 3 adults — have high blood pressure.
The following can increase your chances for developing high blood pressure:
Older age: The risk of high blood pressure increases as you age.
High blood pressure is more common in men who are 45 years of age and older, while women are more likely to develop the condition after age 65.
Race: High blood pressure is more common in African-American adults than in Caucasian or Hispanic-American adults.
African-Americans tend to develop hypertension earlier in life and often experience more severe cases that lead to serious complications, such as stroke, heart attack, and kidney failure.
Family history: Having a family history of high blood pressure can also increase your risk, as the condition tends to run in families.
Being overweight: The more you weigh, the more blood you need to supply oxygen and nutrients to your tissues.
As the volume of blood circulated through your blood vessels increases, so does the pressure on your artery walls.
Obesity — especially abdominal obesity — also increases stiffness in arteries, which increases blood pressure.
Sedentary lifestyle: Being inactive is often linked to factors that can increase your heart rate, such as obesity and type 2 diabetes.
And the higher your heart rate is, the harder your heart has to work.
Tobacco use: When you smoke or chew tobacco, your blood pressure rises temporarily.
Moreover, chemicals in tobacco can damage the lining of your artery walls, which can cause your arteries to narrow, increasing your blood pressure.
Being exposed to secondhand smoke also can increase your blood pressure.
Dietary choices: What you choose to eat (and not to eat) can increase your risk for hypertension, including the following:
Too much salt (sodium) can cause your body to retain fluid, which increases blood pressure.
Since potassium helps balance the amount of sodium in your cells, not getting enough potassium can lead to too much sodium in your blood.
While studies are limited, vitamin D may affect an enzyme produced by your kidneys that affects your blood pressure, so having too little could be harmful.
Alcohol consumption: Drinking more than two drinks a day for men and more than one drink a day for women may affect your blood pressure.
Stress: Being under intense stress can lead to a temporary increase in blood pressure.
Moreover, if you try to cope with stress by overeating, using tobacco, or drinking alcohol, all these can contribute to your high blood pressure.
Chronic conditions: Having kidney disease, sleep apnea, or diabetes can affect blood pressure.
Pregnancy: Being pregnant can cause an increase in blood pressure.
Birth control: Women who take birth control pills are at greater risk of developing high blood pressure.
Children and High Blood Pressure
While most common in adults, hypertension is becoming more common in children and teens.
Kidney or heart problems can cause high blood pressure in kids, but so can lifestyle habits, such as poor diet, obesity, and not exercising.
Children who are African-American and Mexican-American are more likely to have high blood pressure than Caucasian children.
Moreover, boys are at higher risk than girls.
If left untreated, high blood pressure can lead to the following:
Heart attack, angina, or both
Peripheral arterial disease
Retinal problems (retinopathy)