Several factors contribute to high diastolic blood pressure. While a person can control some of these, such as obesity, others are not preventable.

Doctors describe blood pressure using two numbers: systolic and diastolic. They present a reading with the systolic number over the diastolic one. The systolic pressure is the pressure during the heart’s contraction, while the diastolic pressure is the pressure in the period between heartbeats.

The American Heart Association (AHA) state that although people put a lot of emphasis on the systolic number, each increase of 10 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) in diastolic pressure among people aged 40–89 doubles their risk for heart disease or stroke.

In this article, we discuss the common causes of high diastolic blood pressure, how to prevent high blood pressure, and the treatment options.

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Image credit: Nico De Pasquale Photography / Getty Images.

There are various possible causes of high diastolic pressure. A person may be able to control some of these by making lifestyle choices.

High sodium diet

According to a 2019 review, a person can reduce their risk of developing high blood pressure by decreasing the amount of sodium that they consume each day.

Obesity

Hypertension (high blood pressure) is usually associated with obesity. A person can take steps to reach a moderate weight through diet and exercise.

If a person finds it difficult to make dietary changes or increase their physical activity, a doctor can suggest alternative weight management options.

Lack of physical activity

A sedentary lifestyle can contribute to several health issues, including high blood pressure.

According to the AHA, physical activity can help a person lower their blood pressure. It can also improve their heart health and reduce their weight.

The AHA recommend 150 minutes a week of moderate-to-intense physical activity, such as walking briskly, running, or bicycling.

Alcohol consumption

To help prevent high blood pressure, the AHA recommend that males do not consume more than two drinks per day, and females do not consume more than one drink per day.

They state that one drink is either:

  • 12 ounces (oz) of beer
  • 4 oz of wine
  • 1.5 oz of 80-proof spirits
  • 1 oz of 100-proof spirits

Learn more about ways to reduce alcohol consumption.

Medications

Certain medications and drugs can increase a person’s blood pressure. These include:

There are certain risk factors for high blood pressure that a person cannot control. They include:

Race

Research suggests that a person’s race could increase their risk of developing high blood pressure.

Researchers have identified a gene in African American people that may make them more sensitive to salt. For every half a teaspoon of salt that people with this gene consume, their blood pressure could increase by as much as 5 mm Hg.

People with this gene may, therefore, need to monitor their diet closely, as they may be at higher risk of developing high blood pressure as a result of excessive salt consumption.

Family history

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), having a family history of high blood pressure increases a person’s likelihood of developing it.

Biological sex

The CDC state that males and females are equally likely to develop high blood pressure in their lifetime.

However, according to the National Institute on Aging (NIA), males are more likely to develop high blood pressure before the age of 55 years, while females are more likely to develop high blood pressure after menopause.

High blood pressure does not typically cause notable symptoms. The AHA note that the common belief that high blood pressure will cause sweating, facial flushing, or a feeling of nervousness is a myth.

However, a person may experience nosebleeds or headaches if they are in a state of hypertensive crisis. If a person gets two blood pressure readings of 180/120 mm Hg or higher, with 5 minutes between the readings, they should contact 911 or seek emergency medical attention.

A person may have high blood pressure for years before they experience any complications. Some possible indirectly related symptoms include:

  • dizziness
  • flushing in the face
  • blood spots in the eyes

People can usually take the first steps in managing blood pressure at home.

The NIA recommend making several changes to lower blood pressure, including:

  • reducing alcohol consumption
  • maintaining a moderate weight
  • exercising daily or most days
  • reducing sodium in the diet
  • eating a healthful, balanced diet
  • managing stress
  • avoiding tobacco
  • getting enough good quality sleep each night
  • monitoring blood pressure levels at home

If lifestyle changes are not enough, a doctor will likely prescribe medication to help manage and lower a person’s blood pressure.

Anxiety may elevate both diastolic and systolic blood pressure in some people. The authors of a 2016 study state that more research is necessary to understand exactly how anxiety raises blood pressure and why it only happens in some people, especially in young adults.

One suggestion is that mental stress may activate a particular part of the nervous system that triggers a cascade of hormones, which interfere with how the body regulates blood pressure.

If a person who monitors their blood pressure at home does not see lower readings despite implementing lifestyle changes, they should get in touch with a doctor to determine the underlying cause of their high blood pressure.

A person should seek immediate medical attention if they get two readings of 180/120 mm Hg or higher within a 5-minute period, especially if they are experiencing a headache or nosebleed.

Effective strategies to manage high blood pressure include lifestyle changes, medications, and a combination of the two. If a person cannot control their blood pressure, they are at risk of developing health complications, such as heart disease and stroke.

Some people may be able to prevent high blood pressure from occurring. In other cases, some uncontrollable factors — such as biological sex, family history, and race — may increase the risk of high blood pressure.

Healthful lifestyle changes, including eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly, may contribute to lower diastolic and systolic blood pressure. They could also prevent other health complications relating to high blood pressure.

Diastolic pressure is the bottom number of a blood pressure reading. When a person has high blood pressure, doctors often focus on the systolic number, but the diastolic number can, and often does, elevate as blood pressure increases.

High blood pressure is a serious, often symptomless condition that a person should take steps to decrease. Lifestyle changes such as reaching or maintaining a moderate weight and exercising regularly can help.

A person should talk to their doctor if their blood pressure does not decrease in response to them making healthful lifestyle changes.