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High blood pressure is a common medical condition with many potential causes. In some cases, chronic high blood pressure or hypertension arises due to other illnesses and diseases, and a specialized treatment plan that addresses both conditions is necessary.

However, not all medical conditions associated with hypertension cause high blood pressure. Knowing the facts about how diseases and illnesses impact high blood pressure can allow you to make informed decisions regarding lifestyle changes and medical treatments.

What is secondary hypertension?

When chronic high blood pressure occurs due to lifestyle choices and hardening of the arteries, doctors typically call it primary hypertension. Secondary hypertension happens when another medical condition is the direct cause of high blood pressure. If you have secondary hypertension, you will need a treatment plan that addresses the underlying medical condition as well as high blood pressure.

As a result, lifestyle changes like altering diet and increasing physical activity are often part of the treatment plan for secondary hypertension. Often, healthy lifestyle changes can actually improve other symptoms of the underlying condition while making a difference in blood pressure levels.

Sleep apnea and high blood pressure

People with sleep apnea stop breathing for short periods of time throughout the night. The most common type, obstructive sleep apnea, occurs when throat muscles relax and close or narrow the airway that carries air to your lungs. Common symptoms of sleep apnea include:

  • Loud snoring
  • Gasping for air while asleep
  • Morning headaches
  • Dry mouth upon waking
  • Problems staying asleep
  • Sleepiness during the day
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating

Each time a person with sleep apnea stops breathing during the night, they experience brief oxygen deprivation. This causes blood pressure levels to rise and stresses the cardiovascular system. Over time, an individual with sleep apnea may develop secondary hypertension due to the effects of ongoing oxygen deprivation.

Treatment for sleep apnea has been shown to positively benefit secondary hypertension. The most common treatment for the condition is  weight loss, or wearing a mask or  oral appliance that keeps airways open throughout the night. When these treatments fail, doctors may recommend surgery.

Diabetes and high blood pressure

People with type 2 diabetes are twice as likely to have high blood pressure, and the condition is one of the most common causes of secondary hypertension. Type 2 diabetes happens when blood sugar levels become elevated because the pancreas doesn’t make enough insulin and/or body cells don’t respond properly to insulin.

Over time, uncontrolled type 2 diabetes can cause arteries to stiffen. When this occurs, blood can’t pass through them as easily and exerts more force on the arteries, leading to an increase in blood pressure.

Many of the recommended lifestyle changes for type 2 diabetes also help lower blood pressure, such as:

  • Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet focused on whole grains, fruits and vegetables and lean proteins
  • Getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every week
  • Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight

Obesity and high blood pressure

Obesity greatly increases a person’s risk of developing high blood pressure. Whether hypertension due to obesity is primary or secondary is of some debate in the medical community. Many experts believe obesity is a medical condition in its own right, so high blood pressure directly caused by obesity is secondary hypertension. However, some identify obesity as the leading cause of primary hypertension.

Regardless of how experts define the connection, obesity leads to changes in the body that can cause blood pressure levels to rise. People with obesity are more prone to widespread inflammation that can narrow blood vessels. Excess body fat can also diminish blood flow to the kidneys, triggering the release of chemicals that raise blood pressure.

Lifestyle changes that lead to successful weight loss like a healthy diet and increased exercise can help lower high blood pressure, and losing weight then leads to a greater reduction in blood pressure levels in many individuals.

Hypothyroidism and high blood pressure

The thyroid is a gland located at the base of the throat that is responsible for producing thyroid hormone that acts as a chemical messenger in the body. The thyroid plays a number of functions in the body. People with thyroid disease produce either too much or too little of this important hormone, and both problems can cause secondary hypertension.

Individuals with hypothyroidism have lower levels of thyroid hormone. Over time, this causes arteries to stiffen and drives up blood pressure. Hypothyroidism can also increase the rate of fatty deposit buildup in the arteries, which also increases blood pressure.

Hyperthyroidism happens when the thyroid produces too much thyroid hormone. Excessive thyroid hormone can increase heart rate, forcing blood through the arteries more quickly. This in turn can increase the pressure that blood puts on the arteries, which reflects in increased blood pressure readings. Individuals who have clogged or stiffened arteries due to lifestyle and other factors may experience an even larger increase in blood pressure due to hyperthyroidism.

Typically, doctors prescribe medications for people with thyroid disease. Bringing thyroid hormone levels into normal range often lowers blood pressure, especially when combined with healthy lifestyle changes.

Vertigo and high blood pressure

Vertigo is the term for a sensation that the body is in motion or the room is spinning when it is not. Unlike the other conditions discussed in this article, vertigo is not a medical condition. Instead, it is a symptom of some other underlying problem.

Many people mistakenly believe that high blood pressure causes vertigo. The truth is that you’re unlikely to experience dizziness or vertigo from hypertension unless your blood pressure levels rise to a dangerously high level.

Some prescription medications for high blood pressure commonly cause dizziness and vertigo as a side effect. These include:

  • Alpha-blockers like doxazosin mesylate, prazosin hydrochloride and terazosin hydrochloride
  • Alpha-2 receptor agonists like methyldopa
  • Alpha-beta-blockers like carvedilol and labetalol hydrochloride
  • Angiotensin II receptor blockers like candesartan, eprosartan mesylate, irbesartan and valsartan
  • Calcium channel blockers like amlodipine besylate, felodipine and nisoldipine
  • Central agonists like alpha methyldopa, clonidine hydrochloride and guanfacine hydrochloride

Anemia and high blood pressure

Anemia occurs when a person doesn’t have enough red blood cells to carry an adequate supply of oxygen through the body. Many people associate anemia with high blood pressure, but the condition hasn’t been proven to cause secondary hypertension. However, some treatments for anemia like ferric carboxymaltose injections can raise blood pressure. Also, some central agonist drugs like alpha methyldopa used to treat hypertension may cause anemia.

High cholesterol and high blood pressure

Cholesterol is a waxy substance that the body needs to produce cells. When your cholesterol is too high, the excess wax can build up in your arteries and restrict blood flow. Normally, high cholesterol doesn’t directly cause high blood pressure, but its effects can worsen hypertension. Certain medications for high blood pressure can also increase cholesterol levels.

Having both high blood pressure and high cholesterol greatly increases your risk of heart attack and stroke. The risk grows even higher in people who also have high blood sugar and excess body fat along the waist. Together, these four conditions are known as metabolic syndrome.

High cholesterol and high blood pressure often have similar causes, such as:

  • Diet
  • Obesity
  • Lack of exercise
  • Smoking

As a result, making healthy lifestyle changes can help lower both blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

COVID and high blood pressure

Researchers are still working to learn more about risk factors for severe COVID-19 infections and the effects of the disease. One study found that from April to December 2020 blood pressure levels increased among participants. This has led many to wonder if COVID-19 causes high blood pressure. While it’s possible there may be a link between high blood pressure and COVID-19, it is more likely that the stress and anxiety people experienced during the early months of the pandemic led to temporarily elevated blood pressure levels.

Scientists do believe that having hypertension can put you at an increased risk for complications from COVID-19. Also, risk factors for high blood pressure like smoking and obesity make people more likely to develop severe COVID-19 symptoms. Contrary to misinformation spread on the Internet, the COVID-19 vaccine hasn’t been linked to hypertension. There is no evidence to suggest that getting vaccinated increases blood pressure. The vaccines approved in the U.S. have been shown repeatedly to be safe and effective at preventing hospitalization and death due to COVID-19.

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