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Only about one in four of the roughly 116 million adults with high blood pressure (hypertension) have the condition under control. One reason for this is that hypertension often causes no symptoms until numbers rise to dangerous levels. Knowing what the causes of high blood pressure are can help you determine if you should be checking your pressure regularly and discussing the condition with your doctor.

Causes of sudden high blood pressure

Sudden spikes in blood pressure levels may occur due to:

  • Caffeine
  • Over-the-counter medications like cold relief medicine and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Illicit drugs like cocaine
  • Collagen vascular disorders, diseases where the immune system attacks the skin, organs and other body tissues
  • Overactive adrenal glands
  • Scleroderma, a disease that causes hardening of the skin
  • Smoking
  • Stress or anxiety

Normally, sudden blood pressure spikes due to these causes last for only a short period.

Is high blood pressure hereditary?

If you have a family history of high blood pressure, you are more likely to develop the condition. However, families share more than their genes. Often, family members have similar diets and habits due to traditions and environment. As a result, you may inherit lifestyle choices that increase the likelihood of hypertension.

How high blood pressure affects young adults, men, and women differently

Roughly 50% of men have high blood pressure versus 44% of women, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Men have slightly higher base blood pressure levels to begin with, putting them closer to the threshold for hypertension.

Many of the causes of high blood pressure can affect men, women, young people, and old people similarly. However, there are some potential differences between the causes of hypertension among different groups.  

Causes of high blood pressure in young adults

Your risk of high blood pressure increases with age, but children, adolescents, and young adults can also develop the condition. Roughly 1 in 8 people aged 20 to 40 has the condition. In younger people, high blood pressure may be related to an underlying kidney or heart problem. Lifestyle habits and obesity can also lead to high blood pressure in younger people. Stress related to relationship problems, college, and work may also contribute to the problem. 

Does low T cause high blood pressure?

A large cross-sectional study of men found that low testosterone may increase the risk of high blood pressure in men. However, more research is needed to determine whether one causes the other or if other factors may contribute to both high blood pressure and low t.

What causes high blood pressure in women?

Women can develop high blood pressure for many of the same reasons as men, but there are some unique causes of high blood pressure in women. Hormonal changes after menopause may lead to weight gain and sensitivity to salt that increase the risk of high blood pressure. Also, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and some birth control pills may raise blood pressure in women.

How does pregnancy affect blood pressure?

High blood pressure impacts roughly one to every 12 to 17 pregnant women due to changes in blood volume and in the heart and blood vessels. Often, blood pressure rises around the 20th week of pregnancy. When this occurs, doctors closely monitor women to look for signs of a dangerous increase in blood pressure. Women may need to make lifestyle changes, take steps to reduce stress, or even go on bed rest to keep blood pressure levels in line. After delivery, blood pressure levels often return to normal.

Stress and high blood pressure

Your body has a stress response to help protect it from threats. During periods of stress, hormones flood your body that cause your heart to beat more quickly and your blood vessels to narrow. This puts you into a state of alert, so you can fight or flee from the threat and temporarily increases your blood pressure.

Most sources of stress in modern life are not brief dangerous situations. Instead, they are chronic problems related to things like work, relationships, and money. When stress becomes chronic, hormone levels, and blood pressure may stay elevated.

Can anxiety cause high blood pressure?

Anxiety is unlikely to cause chronic high blood pressure, but when you experience symptoms, your blood pressure may rise sharply for a short period. Also, many people who experience anxiety use alcohol, smoking, overeating, and other unhealthy habits to cope. These choices may increase the risk of hypertension.

Can depression cause high blood pressure?

As with anxiety, depression is unlikely to cause chronic high blood pressure, but it may lead to short spikes. Depression often makes self-care difficult. If you’re not exercising regularly, eating an unhealthy diet, smoking, and engaging in other habits due to depression symptoms, you may be at a greater risk for hypertension.

How lifestyle factors affect blood pressure

Lifestyle factors can make a big impact on your risk of developing hypertension. Those wondering how to lower blood pressure naturally may be able to achieve some success simply by making lifestyle changes.

Marijuana and high blood pressure

More research is necessary to completely understand how marijuana impacts the cardiovascular system. The American Heart Association cautions that there is some evidence to suggest that CBD and THC, two chemicals found in marijuana, may increase both heart rate and blood pressure.

Can alcohol cause high blood pressure?

Drinking three or more alcoholic beverages has been shown to temporarily increase blood pressure levels. Binge drinking and heavy drinking defined as three or more daily drinks for women and four or more daily drinks for men may lead to ongoing high blood pressure. Cutting back on alcohol consumption is often part of a treatment plan for hypertension. 

Can caffeine cause high blood pressure?

Caffeine is a stimulant drug that raises blood pressure and heart rate. How dramatically caffeine impacts blood pressure varies from person to person. For some, regularly consuming caffeine may contribute to hypertension. As a result, doctors may recommend that you give up caffeine or reduce your intake if you have the condition.

Does salt cause high blood pressure?

Sodium is a mineral that the human body needs to function properly, but consuming too much of it has been linked to hypertension. Roughly 90% of sodium in Americans’ diets comes from salt. People who reduce their intake of salt often see their blood pressure levels begin to decrease within a few weeks.

Can smoking cause high blood pressure?

Nicotine causes the blood vessels to narrow, making it more difficult for blood to flow through. This leads to an increase in blood pressure. Quitting smoking can help lower blood pressure levels for many people with hypertension.

Can vaping cause high blood pressure?

People who vape e-juice that contains nicotine can experience hypertension due to the effects of the chemical on the cardiovascular system. More study is needed to determine how vaping nicotine-free e-juice, CBD oil, and marijuana oil impacts blood pressure.

Infections and high blood pressure

Illnesses may lead to short-term increases in blood pressure. In some cases, they may cause permanent damage that leads to chronic hypertension. 

Can an infection cause high blood pressure?

Infections may temporarily increase blood pressure levels in some people. This is likely due to inflammation that occurs in the body as the immune system fights the microorganisms responsible for the infection. Typically, after the infection is gone, blood pressure levels return to normal.

Can a tooth infection cause high blood pressure?

An abscess or tooth infection may temporarily increase blood pressure. Ongoing gum disease is likely more of a concern for hypertension. Chronic inflammation of the gums related to periodontal disease may raise blood pressure and make it more difficult for people with hypertension to control the condition.

Can a UTI cause high blood pressure?

In young children, urinary tract infections (UTIs) that result in a high fever may increase the risk of hypertension later in life. Pregnant women may also be more at risk of hypertension if they develop a UTI.

Can a kidney infection cause high blood pressure?

A kidney infection treated before it can cause other health complications is unlikely to cause hypertension. However, scarring of the kidneys due to an infection may lead to high blood pressure.

How diabetes, high cholesterol, and thyroid problems affect blood pressure

Medical conditions may increase the risk of hypertension or make complications of high blood pressure more likely to occur.

Diabetes and high blood pressure

People with diabetes are at double the risk of developing high blood pressure as those without it. Diabetes can contribute to hardening of the arteries that makes it more difficult for blood to freely circulate and raises blood pressure.

High cholesterol and high blood pressure

High cholesterol doesn’t actually cause high blood pressure, but the two conditions are closely intertwined. If you have high cholesterol, you are more likely to have plaque and calcium buildup in your arteries, and this may increase blood pressure. If you have both high cholesterol and high blood pressure, your risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes greatly increases. The risk becomes even greater if you also have excess body fat around your waist and elevated blood sugar levels. Together, these conditions are known as metabolic syndrome.

Hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, and high blood pressure

Thyroid disorders can lead to secondary hypertension, high blood pressure that happens due to another medical condition. Both overproduction of thyroid hormone (hyperthyroidism) and inadequate thyroid hormone production (hypothyroidism) may cause secondary hypertension.

Blood pressure FAQs

Can anemia cause high blood pressure?

Anemia is unlikely to cause high blood pressure in the form of hypertension, but it is linked to pulmonary hypertension. This condition refers to high blood pressure confined to the arteries of the lungs and the right side of the heart. If left untreated, pulmonary hypertension may lead to heart failure, blood clots, irregular heartbeat, and bleeding in the lungs.

Can low iron cause high blood pressure?

Low iron can lead to a specific kind of anemia. As described above, anemia has been associated with pulmonary hypertension, a serious medical condition. More research is needed to fully understand the link between iron levels, anemia, and hypertension.

Can pain cause high blood pressure?

When you experience pain, nervous system activity increases, and this may trigger an increase in blood pressure levels. Over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen and NSAIDs used to manage pain at home may also temporarily increase blood pressure.

Can cancer cause high blood pressure?

Chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and hormone therapy for cancer may increase blood pressure as a side effect. Also, adrenal cancer, a form of cancer that affects hormone-producing glands above the kidneys, may cause chronic or sudden high blood pressure.

Can vertigo cause high blood pressure?

Vertigo is unlikely to cause high blood pressure. However, people may experience dizziness due to reduced blood flow related to hardening of the arteries, and high blood pressure may also arise due to changes in the blood vessels. Severe dizziness may also be a sign of stroke, a life-threatening medical emergency that those with hypertension are at an increased risk of. Some blood pressure medications also cause dizziness or vertigo.

Can allergies cause high blood pressure?

Allergies don’t normally lead to an increase in blood pressure levels but over-the-counter medications taken to relieve symptoms may. Pseudoephedrine found in many decongestant drugs you can buy without a doctor’s prescription can temporarily raise blood pressure.

Can GI issues cause high blood pressure?

A study found that people who have both high blood pressure and depression may have certain bacteria present in their digestive systems, but the research couldn’t prove that the gut was the cause of high blood pressure or depression. At this time, there is not enough evidence to know whether gastrointestinal issues cause high blood pressure.

Can sleep apnea cause high blood pressure?

People with sleep apnea experience sudden drops in oxygen levels repeatedly throughout the night, placing strain on the cardiovascular system. This can lead to hypertension and increase the risk of heart attack, stroke, and irregular heartbeat.

Can lack of sleep cause high blood pressure?

Your blood pressure naturally declines while you sleep. If you don’t get enough sleep regularly, your blood pressure stays at an increased level for more hours of the day. The CDC recommends getting at least 7 hours of sleep every night to support heart health and overall health and well-being.

Forward can help you manage your blood pressure

As your primary care provider, we deliver one-to-one, personalized care for people with hypertension. Our 12-week, doctor-led Healthy Heart Program begins with comprehensive blood testing to gain a full picture of your overall health. We create a diet and exercise plan optimized for your specific needs and provide ongoing support and biometric monitoring to help you lower your numbers and reduce your risk of heart attack, stroke, and other complications of hypertension.

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