A range of factors may increase a person’s risk of developing hypertension. Some examples include smoking, lack of exercise, certain underlying health conditions, and older age.

A person can take steps to manage and prevent some risk factors for hypertension, or high blood pressure.

This article explores some risk factors and causes of hypertension.

It also discusses how to help prevent high blood pressure.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

Was this helpful?
A person checking their blood pressure with a machine 1Share on Pinterest
Mayur Kakade/Getty Images

In people living with obesity or overweight, the heart needs to work harder in order to sustain sufficient blood flow to supply the body’s cells with oxygen. Over time, this additional stress can affect a person’s heart and blood vessels, raising their blood pressure.

Additionally, obesity has an association with higher levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (which people sometimes call “bad” cholesterol). It also has an association with lower levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (or “good” cholesterol) and higher levels of triglycerides, or fats in the blood.

Research suggests that living with obesity can also increase a person’s risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, and other health conditions. Having obesity may also make taking preventive measures against hypertension, such as regular physical activity, more challenging.

A person with obesity can speak with a health professional about lifestyle modifications they can make to manage their condition and help reduce their risk of hypertension.

High blood pressure occurs as a result of a related underlying health condition in approximately 1 in 10 cases, according to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS).

Conditions that may lead to hypertension include:

According to a 2017 study of 640 subjects aged 25–64 years, males are more likely than females to develop hypertension.

A 2018 review also found that males have a higher risk than females of developing hypertension. This is until after females experience the menopause.

When a person feels stressed, their body produces hormones that increase their blood pressure.

However, more research is necessary to fully understand the connection between stress, hormones, and blood pressure. Scientists are still working to understand the precise nature of the connection between ongoing stress and high blood pressure in the long term.

According to the NHS, medications that may increase an individual’s blood pressure include:

Individuals should speak with a healthcare professional about potential adverse effects before taking any medications. People with a high risk of developing hypertension should discuss this with their doctor, who may be able to recommend alternative medications or other treatments.

A person should not stop taking any prescribed medications without first speaking with their doctor.

Tobacco use also increases an individual’s likelihood of developing hypertension. Smoking tobacco and other substances can also cause damage to a person’s heart and blood vessels.

Nicotine, the addictive substance in tobacco products and vapes, raises a person’s blood pressure. Additionally, smoking produces carbon monoxide, which is a toxic substance. Inhaling carbon monoxide lowers the amount of oxygen a person’s blood can transport around their body.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Black individuals are more likely to develop high blood pressure than people in other ethnic groups, including:

  • white people
  • Hispanic people
  • Asian people
  • Pacific Islanders
  • Native Americans
  • Alaska Natives

Research suggests that Black people also develop high blood pressure earlier in life than other ethnic groups.

Learn more about hypertension in African Americans.

A person’s dietary habits have a direct effect on their health in numerous ways, including their blood pressure.

For example, eating a diet too high in sodium can increase a person’s blood pressure, as well as their risk of stroke and heart disease. Most of the sodium in the average American diet derives from ultra-processed foods or takeout and restaurant foods.

Similarly, eating a diet too low in the mineral potassium, which is present in bananas and beans, for example, can also raise a person’s blood pressure.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), people over 65 years old are more likely to experience hypertension than younger adults.

The CDC also highlight that a person’s likelihood of developing hypertension increases as they age.

Engaging in regular exercise, whether moderate or intense, helps a person’s cardiovascular system remain healthy and strong, which can help to maintain stable blood pressure.

Regular physical activity can also contribute toward maintaining a moderate weight, which can help a person to keep their blood pressure under control.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends a person does at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week.

Genetics are likely to contribute to an individual’s risk of developing high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and other conditions that relate to hypertension, according to the CDC.

However, individuals with a family history of hypertension may also be exposed to similar environmental or lifestyle-related risk factors for the condition. For example, people may eat similar diets to other members of their family, and children may develop similar exercise habits to their parents.

The best way to prevent the onset of hypertension is by taking steps to maintain an active and healthy lifestyle, such as:

A range of factors, including certain health conditions, smoking, and older age, may increase a person’s risk of developing hypertension.

People can make lifestyle changes to help keep their blood pressure within a healthy range. For example, eating a balanced diet, quitting smoking, and exercising regularly.

Anyone who has concerns about their blood pressure should speak with a doctor, who can recommend lifestyle modifications and treatments, if necessary.