Hypertension Risks

Some hypertension risk factors cannot be changed: you can’t alter your age or family history. Other risk factors are under your control, such as diet, smoking and other lifestyle choices. Every risk factor for hypertension that affects you increases your risk of high blood pressure: the more risk factors you control, the lower your risk of hypertension.

Family history is a significant indicator of hypertension risk. If close relatives were affected by high blood pressure, you’ve likely inherited a risk for hypertension and the complications that go along with the disease. If this is the case, it’s particularly important to keep other risk factors–such as weight and alcohol intake–in check.

Age and the Risk of Hypertension

After age 45, a man’s risk for hypertension increases. Women are at increased risk for hypertension after the age of 55. The onset of menopause also seems to increase a woman’s risk of high blood pressure. By age 60, 50 percent of the American population develops high blood pressure.

In spite of these numbers, hypertension is not an inevitable part of the aging process. Lifestyle and diet can counter age as a hypertension risk factor.

Gender and High Blood Pressure

Being male increases your risk of hypertension, although women are by no means immune to high blood pressure. Either gender can be affected by hypertension, although interestingly, studies have shown that women are more likely to seek treatment for high blood pressure than men.

Ethnicity and Hypertension Risk

People of African descent are at higher risk for developing hypertension than Caucasians or Hispanics. Africans also generally develop hypertension earlier in life than the general population, tend to have more severe cases of the disease, and as a whole, have higher rates of premature death due to blood pressure complications.

Your risk of high blood pressure varies if you are of Hispanic ethnicity. Puerto Ricans have a higher rate of deaths due to hypertension complications than Caucasians. In contrast, those of Cuban descent have a lower hypertension-related death rate than Caucasians.

How Diet affects Your Risk for Hypertension

Diet affects hypertension risk in multiple ways. Too much salt (sodium) in a diet increases fluid retention, which in turn increases blood pressure. A diet deficient in potassium is also a risk factor for hypertension, as potassium helps control the amount of sodium in the body.

A lack of vitamin D may increase your risk of hypertension. Some research suggests low levels of vitamin D affect kidney enzymes that in turn affect blood pressure. The effect of vitamin D deficiency on hypertension, however, is still under debate.

Obesity and Hypertension Risk

People who are overweight or obese run a higher-than-normal risk of developing hypertension. Extra weight increases the amount of blood required to supply cells with nutrients and oxygen. Extra blood places more pressure on the blood vessel walls, resulting in hypertension.

Lifestyle Choices and Hypertension

Smoking and drinking regularly both increase a person’s risk for developing hypertension. Alcohol abuse damages the heart muscle, increasing the risk of hypertension. Ingesting more than two or three alcoholic drinks in a sitting also causes a temporary increase in blood pressure.

Smoking also causes a temporary increase in blood pressure. Over the long term, chemicals in tobacco smoke damage the arterial walls, which narrows the arteries and provides less room for blood to flow. In turn, this increases blood pressure, leading to further health complications.

Prehypertension

Prehypertension describes blood pressure between 120/80 to 139/89 mmHg. Those with prehypertension are considered at significant risk for developing hypertension, particularly if other risk factors are present.

Resources

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2008). High blood pressure (hypertension): Risk factors. Retrieved January 26, 2010, from the Mayo Clinic Web site: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/high-blood-pressure/DS00100/DSECTION=risk-factors.

National Heart Lung and Blood Institute Staff. (n.d.). Who is at risk for high blood pressure? Retrieved January 26, 2010, from the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute Web site: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/Hbp/HBP_WhoIsAtRisk.html.