Hypertension Risks Family History

People can change their lifestyle to help lower blood pressure, but no one can alter a family history of hypertension. A family history of high blood pressure raises the risk of both hypertension and cardiovascular disease. Those with a family health history of high blood pressure are twice as likely to develop hypertension as the general population.

Investigating Family Health History

Determining if a family history of hypertension exists may be difficult because high blood pressure often goes undiagnosed. Sometimes a little detective work is in order.

If you answer “yes” to any of the following questions, you may have a family history of hypertension:

  • Do any family members suffer from high cholesterol?
  • Does the family’s lifestyle predispose it to hypertension?
  • Have any relatives experienced strokes or stroke symptoms?
  • Is there a family history of cardiovascular disease?
  • Is there a family history of diabetes?

Genetics and Hypertension

Genetic factors contribute to an estimated 30 percent of cases of essential hypertension, which is defined as high blood pressure of unknown cause. In the United States, high blood pressure occurs more frequently among African Americans than among Caucasian or Asian Americans.

Adult African American men are at high risk for developing hypertension and cardiovascular diseases. The reason remains unknown, especially since non-American adult men of African descent have hypertension risks more similar to those of Caucasians than African Americans.

A large percentage of people with essential hypertension have genetic abnormalities of their peripheral arteries (arterioles), the small arteries that supply blood to the body’s tissues. This genetic abnormality makes the walls of the arteries stiff, causing greater resistance to the blood flowing through them.

Family History, Hypertension and Lifestyle

Genes are not responsible for all family histories of high blood pressure. Families tend to share the same lifestyle choices and behavior patterns. A family that leans towards sedentary activities, eats an unhealthy diet, or has many members who smoke will have higher rates of hypertension than a family that engages in healthy activities and eats sensibly.

People with family histories of hypertension should examine their family closely for lifestyle choices that may increase the risk of high blood pressure, and then make changes to their own lifestyle to help lower their risk of hypertension. A person with a family health history of high blood pressure should take the following precautions:

  • Eat a diet high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains
  • Exercise regularly· Limit alcohol consumption
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Manage stress levels
  • Periodically check blood pressure levels.

Even when a family history of hypertension has a genetic cause, changes to lifestyle can lower high blood pressure and help keep the condition under control.

Resources

Minnesota Department of Health Staff. (2008). Hypertension and family health history. Retrieved March 8, 2010, from the Minnesota Department of Health Web site: http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/hpcd/genomics/resources/fs/hypertension.html.

National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute Staff. (n.d.). Your guide to lowering high blood pressure. Retrieved March 8, 2010, from the NHLBI Web site: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/hbp/.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Staff. (n.d.). Family history and high blood pressure. Retrieved March 8, 2010, from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site: http://www.cdc.gov/Pcd/issues/2005/apr/pdf/04_0134_01.pdf.