There are two types of high blood pressure. Primary, or “essential,” high blood pressure is by far the most common, affecting an estimated 90 to 95 percent of those with high blood pressure. Most likely, this is the form you have. This is also the type for which no specific cause is known, although researchers do have
One of the main theories is that primary
high blood pressure is the result of a
hyperactive sympathetic nervous system,
which controls involuntary actions, such as
breathing, blinking, and pushing blood
through the body. Other theories blame
hormonal imbalances and damage to the
endothelium, the inner layer of blood vessels,
which prevents them from dilating. In
addition, mutations in the genes that control
blood volume and sodium; low intake
of micronutrients such as potassium, magnesium,
and calcium; and high sodium
intake (the one you’re probably most familiar
with), may play a role.
The other form of high blood pressure,
called secondary, is a by-product of having
a specific medical condition. These include
kidney disease, Cushing’s syndrome
(which is a rare hormonal condition), pregnancy,
an overactive thyroid gland, and
neurological disorders. In addition, certain
medicines can cause secondary high
blood pressure, such as high doses of
estrogen, corticosteroids, and nonsteroidal
High blood pressure is actually a fairly
modern illness; 100 years ago, it, like most
chronic heart conditions, barely existed.
That’s because few people were overweight,
and most got plenty of physical
activity and ate diets that were relatively
healthy, with few processed foods.
You see, you don’t get high blood pressure
from viruses or bacteria. You get it
from the way you live. Although researchers
aren’t sure of the exact physiological mechanism
that increases blood pressure, they
certainly know the triggers. Stated simply,
the way you live is the greatest contributor
to your risk of developing high blood pressure.
Among the things that increase your
risk of hypertension:
- Being overweight
- Heavy alcohol consumption
- A high-sodium diet
- Use of oral contraceptives
- A sedentary lifestyle
- High levels of anxiety and stress
What’s noteworthy is that all of these
factors are within your control. While medications
exist to deal with the physiology of
high blood pressure, the way you eat,
move, and deal with the day-to-day
stresses of life has the greatest impact on
achieving healthy blood pressure.
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