What Causes High Blood Pressure?

Dear Dr. Manny, 

My mother has high blood pressure, and she’s worried that I might have it too. I don’t understand what causes high blood pressure? Is it weight or food related? How do you lower your blood pressure? Is there anyway to take my blood pressure at home? 

Blood pressure is the measure of the force of the blood pushing against blood vessel walls. It can be high, it can be low, and it can be normal. High blood pressure is when the heart has to work harder to pump out blood. 

A normal range for blood pressure is less than 120 over 80. The top number is called the systolic, while the bottom number is called the diastolic. 

High blood pressure can be caused by a number of reasons. If you smoke regularly, you are at risk for high blood pressure. If you are overweight, you are at risk for high blood pressure. Too much salt in your diet, a lack of physical exercise, too much alcohol consumption, stress, old age, genetics, family history, kidney disease, thyroid disorders, and sleep apnea are all causes for high blood pressure. 

95% of high blood pressure cases are caused by what is known as “essential hypertension.” This means the underlying cause cannot be found. It is linked to diet and family history. Women are more likely than men to suffer from it. 

A lifestyle change can help you lower your blood pressure. Even if you don’t have high blood pressure, you should be walking and running more often. Exercise makes your heart stronger, helps develop healthy muscle, and helps your body burn the fat that may be causing your blood pressure to skyrocket. 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week helps lower blood pressure. 

Eating better is another way to lower blood pressure. Avoiding salty and overprocessed foods is one of the best ways. Drinking less alcohol and eating more potassium, drinking less coffee and caffeine, and eating more dark chocolate are also good methods. Cut out the added sugar, stop smoking, and lose weight. Consider eating more berries. Increase your intake of calcium and magnesium. 

Learning to manage stress is another way to bring your numbers down. Stress is one of the biggest factors for high blood pressure. Deep breathing and meditation do wonders for your body. 

There are ways to monitor your blood pressure at home. If you have five or ten minutes of peace, sit down, locate your pulse, place a stethoscope or a digital cuff on the crook of your elbow, and follow the instructions in the manual located with your digital or manual monitor. Keep a record of your blood pressure readings. If you think you’re doing it wrong, ask your doctor or a nurse to show you how to do it. 

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