Are you at risk for high blood pressure?

high blood pressure heart family geneticsBoth of my parents take medication to lower their blood pressure. My brother also takes blood pressure medicine. At 43 years old, my numbers are currently normal, but I do worry about hypertension.

How much does my genetic make-up have to do with it? Or, does my lifestyle have the biggest impact on my blood pressure? Before we get into the risk factors, I think we need to answer a few other important questions.

What is high blood pressure?
Your blood pressure is high if you have readings that are consistently above 140 over 90 for several weeks. You can also have high blood pressure if just one of those numbers is high over a period of time.

What does it matter if you have high blood pressure?
Higher blood pressure puts a strain on your heart and blood vessels. This additional strain can increase your risk of a heart attack or stroke. High blood pressure can also cause kidney disease, and is linked to some forms of dementia.

What are the signs of high blood pressure?
There typically aren’t any signs or symptoms of high blood pressure. The only way to know if you have high blood pressure is to have your readings taken. One high reading does not necessarily mean your blood pressure is high. Many things can affect your pressures throughout the day. You may also get stressed about going to the doctor, which may increase your reading. You need to have your blood pressure checked over time and see if it remains high.

What causes high blood pressure?
For most people, there isn’t a single cause for their high blood pressure. It’s not certain what causes high blood pressure, but it seems to be most often brought on by a combination of your lifestyle as well as other factors that you can’t control.

Here are some of the key risk factors for high blood pressure:

Aging
The risk of high blood pressure increases as you age. Men 45 years of age and older have an increased risk of hypertension. Women are more likely to develop high blood pressure at about 55 years old, or after menopause.

Family history
Genetics is a strong risk factor for high blood pressure. Hypertension tends to run in families. However, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, such as good eating habits and keep off extra weight, can help prolong the time you spend without the disease.

Ethnicity
People from African-Caribbean and South Asian decent tend to be at a greater risk for high blood pressure. African Americans also have increased rates of hypertension, can develop the condition earlier in life, and often have more serious complications than Caucasians.

Being overweight
Being overweight or obese creates an extra strain on your heart. Your blood pressure can rise with the more extra pounds you put on. More blood is circulated through your body and adds more pressure to your artery walls. Maintaining a healthy weight can help prevent high blood pressure.

Physically inactive
Without regular exercise to keep your heart strong, it has to pump harder to circulate your blood and puts extra stress on your arteries. Lack of physical activity also goes hand in hand with becoming overweight.

Unhealthy diet
Having too much fat and sugar in your diet can contribute to weight gain and increase your chances of high blood pressure. Eating a healthy diet with protein, fiber and plenty of fruits and vegetables can even help lower blood pressure.

Too much salt
A high sodium diet can raise your blood pressure. When you eat too much salt, your body retains fluid which can increase blood pressure. Keep your salt intake to a minimum.

Using tobacco
Smoking or chewing tobacco raises your blood pressure temporarily. However, the chemicals in tobacco can also damage the lining in your artery walls. Your arteries can narrow and raise your blood pressure.

Overindulging in alcohol
Drinking too much alcohol can also increase your risk of hypertension. Over time, it damages your heart. Limiting yourself to one glass of alcohol a day if you’re a woman and two glasses a day if you’re a man can help you avoid high blood pressure.

So, while my age and my family genetics may be going against me, it seems that I can help lower my chances of developing high blood pressure by living a more balanced lifestyle. By exercising, eating right and maintaining a healthy weight, I may be able to keep high blood pressure at bay. That’s all the more reason to live a balanced life!

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