Hypertension Causes

There are many causes of hypertension, from kidney disease and genetics to pregnancy and stress. Certain prescription medications can also trigger hypertension, as can some street drugs. While the causes of hypertension are extensive, in most cases, the underlying cause of high blood pressure remains a mystery.

What is Hypertension?

Blood pressure rises and falls as the heart beats. When the heart beats, it pumps blood into the arteries, putting pressure on the walls of the blood vessels. When the heart is at rest, blood pressure falls until the next beat.

Hypertension occurs when blood pressure rises high enough to damage the walls of blood vessels. The damage caused by hypertension develops slowly as one ages, but if left untreated, it can cause heart attacks, strokes, kidney damage and other serious health complications.

Essential Hypertension

Causes of hypertension are not always easy to detect. In 90 to 95 percent of cases, no underlying cause of high blood pressure can be found. Such cases are called “essential” or “idiopathic” hypertension.

Medical Causes of Hypertension

Many medical conditions cause hypertension–sometimes, rare diseases can cause hypertension, but most medical conditions that cause the blood pressure to rise are surprisingly common.

Heart conditions commonly cause hypertension, as do many kidney diseases. Lung diseases such as COPD can also cause high blood pressure.

Pregnancy is also a common cause of hypertension. Gestational hypertension affects 6 to 8 percent of all pregnant women, and can develop into a serious condition called preeclampsia.

Other medical causes of hypertension include (but are not limited to):

  • Arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries)
  • Blood vessel diseases
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Pulmonary embolism (blood clots in the lungs)
  • Sleep apnea
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus
  • Thyroid disorders (hyperthyroidism)
  • Turner syndrome.

Genetics and Hypertension

People with family histories of hypertension have an increased risk of high blood pressure, as do people of African descent. Both risk factors suggest a genetic cause for some cases of hypertension.

Medication and High Blood Pressure

A number of medications and drug interactions can cause hypertension or raise existing high blood pressure. Oral contraceptives, or birth control, trigger hypertension in some women. Serotonin syndrome, a potentially dangerous reaction to medications that affect levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin (some anti-depressants), can also result in hypertension.

Pulmonary Hypertension Causes

“Pulmonary hypertension” refers to hypertension in the lungs, usually due to narrowing of the lung arteries or left heart failure. In people with pulmonary hypertension, blood pressure in the rest of the body may be normal, or even low.

Causes of pulmonary hypertension include:

  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Chronic low oxygen levels in the blood
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Genetics
  • Heart valve disease
  • History of pulmonary emboli
  • Lung disease
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Some medications (most notably certain diet medications).

Lifestyle and Hypertension Causes

Of all the causes of hypertension, lifestyle changes are the most common and the most difficult to pin down. Stress, lack of exercise and a high-sodium diet are all linked to hypertension.

Other lifestyle choices can also contribute to the development of hypertension. Tobacco use and excessive alcohol consumption can both lead to high blood pressure levels. The use of certain illicit drugs can also cause high blood pressure, including steroids, cocaine and ecstasy abuse.


Mayo Clinic Staff. (2010). High blood pressure (hypertension): Causes. Retrieved January 22, 2010, from the Mayo Clinic Web site: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/high-blood-pressure/DS00100/DSECTION=causes.

MedicineNet Staff. (n.d.). Preeclampsia (pregnancy induced hypertension). Retrieved January 25, 2010, from the MedicineNet We site: http://www.medicinenet.com/pregnancy_induced_hypertension/article.htm.

Nemours Foundation Staff. (2008). Hypertension (high blood pressure). Retrieved January 22, 2010, from the KidsHealth Web site: http://kidshealth.org/teen/diseases_conditions/heart/hypertension.html.

U.S. National Library of Medicine Staff. (2009). Pulmonary hypertension. Retrieved January 22, 2010, from the MedlinePlus Web site: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000112.htm.

Wrong Diagnosis Staff. (n.d.). Causes of hypertension. Retrieved January 22, 2010,from the Wrong Diagnosis Web site: http://www.wrongdiagnosis.com/h/hypertension/causes.htm.