Home Page
Consumers' Section

E-mail this page   Printable View

High Blood Pressure: Overview and Risk Factors

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a major risk factor for heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, and other serious disorders. The World Health Organization has identified hypertension as the most important preventable cause of premature death in developed countries.

About 65 million people in the United States have hypertension. However, because it is typically without symptoms, affected individuals often do not know they have the condition. One–third of hypertensive persons are unaware of their disease, and only about half of those who are aware of the condition achieve adequate blood pressure control.

In the vast majority of cases, no specific cause of hypertension is identified. In about 5 to 10 percent of cases, hypertension occurs due to an underlying disease, such as kidney disease, thyroid disease, chronic steroid therapy, or other disorders.

Signs and symptoms, when they do occur, include headache, confusion, vision changes, nausea, vomiting, and fatigue.

Risk Factors

African–Americans have a higher risk of high blood pressure compared with blacks in Africa and with North American whites; the mechanisms for this increased risk are unknown. The following factors increase the likelihood of developing hypertension:

  • Age: About two–thirds of Americans over age 65 have high blood pressure.
  • Family history: Having relatives with cardiovascular disease or hypertension increases risk.
  • Obesity: Obese individuals have twice the risk of hypertension, compared with normal–weight individuals.
  • Lack of exercise
  • Dietary factors (see Nutritional Considerations)
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Oral contraceptive use
  • Smoking
  • Medications: Corticosteroids, nonsteroidal anti–inflammatory drugs (e.g., ibuprofen), antihistamines, diet pills, some antidepressants, and other medications can cause hypertension.


High Blood Pressure: Diagnosis and Treatment >>