Exactly what raises blood pressure and how isn’t fully understood, and for many people there may be no one particular cause.
We do know that the causes, or risk factors, listed here raise your risk of developing high blood pressure (hypertension).
Your lifestyle can make a big difference. That is, how fit and active you are, what you eat and drink, and whether you smoke - which means there is a lot you can do to get your blood pressure under control.
A number of other things you can’t change can also play a role, such as your age, family history and ethnic background.
Also take a look at the causes of low blood pressure.
How can your lifestyle raise your blood pressure?
There are a number of things you can change which can make a dramatic difference to your blood pressure.
Eating too much salt
Eating too much salt is one of the main causes of high blood pressure, so lowering your salt intake is one of the best ways to lower it. Most people don’t know how much salt they eat because it’s hidden in the foods we buy. See how you can eat less.
As well as raising your blood pressure, smoking speeds up the process of atherosclerosis, where fat clogs up your arteries, leading to strokes and heart attacks. Stopping smoking is one of the best things you can do for your health. See how you can get help with quitting.
Being overweight is strongly linked with high blood pressure and a number of related health problems, such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
Find out if you are a healthy weight and see the simple changes you can make to help you lose weight if you need to. Even losing a small amount can make a big difference.
Drinking too much alcohol
Alcohol has a surprisingly big impact on blood pressure, it’s linked to a fifth of cases, and causes numerous other health problems. Find out if you’re drinking within the recommended limits and see how you can cut back without cutting alcohol out completely.
Not eating enough fruit and vegetables
Eating fruits and vegetables can help to stave off all manner of problems, and eating too little has the opposite effect, leading to high blood pressure, weight gain, heart disease, stroke and diabetes. See how they help and how you can get more fruit and veg into your meals.
Eating too much fat and sugar
Eating too much sugar and saturated fat can lead to weight gain and raised blood cholesterol, raising your blood pressure, damaging your arteries and raising the risk of stroke and heart disease. Find out more about how to eat healthily.
Lack of exercise or physical activity
A third of men and half of women in England do less than the recommended 150 minutes per week of physical activity, and a lack of activity raises the risk of high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart attacks and stroke. It’s never too late to get active and improve your health.
What else can raise your blood pressure?
There are a number of things you can’t change which can mean you’re more likely to develop high blood pressure. While you can’t change your genes or age, making healthy changes to your lifestyle means you can still take control of your blood pressure.
Blood pressure tends to rise with age. Up to five out of every hundred (5%) 16-24 year olds in England have high blood pressure, but by the age of 65-74, more than half (58%) have it. This could be because the effects of an unhealthy lifestyle can build up over time, for example gaining weight and exercising less.
Up to the age of 65, men tend to have higher blood pressure than women. From 65 to 74 years of age, women typically have higher blood pressure.
Being of Black African or Black Caribbean descent
People from Black African, Black Caribbean and South Asian backgrounds have a higher risk of developing high blood pressure than the rest of the population. Changes to your diet could help you to lower the risk.
A family member has high blood pressure
Your genes play a role in your blood pressure. You’re more likely to develop high blood pressure if other people in your family have it or have done in the past.
Other health problems
Sometimes high blood pressure is the result of another health condition (secondary hypertension). For example, changes in blood supply to the kidneys, hormone imbalances which can happen with problems such as an underactive thyroid. Treating the cause could mean your blood pressure returns to normal.
Long term stress can also lead to unhealthy ways of coping, such as eating junk foods, which can raise blood pressure over time.
Some medications can raise your blood pressure. These include the combined contraceptive pill which contains the hormone oestrogen, steroids, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) such as ibuprofen, some antidepressants and some recreational drugs including cocaine and amphetamines. Cough and cold and herbal remedies can also have an effect.
Your blood pressure might return to normal when you stop taking these medications.
High blood pressure is most common in people from low income households and those living in deprived areas. Public Health England (PHE) have estimated that people from the most deprived areas in England are 30% (a third) more likely to have high blood pressure than those from the least, and are even more likely to have diseases causes by high blood pressure, such as coronary heart attack and stroke.