Beyond Salt: The Other Hypertension Risks

woman having her blood pressure checked

Many other factors besides salt can increase blood pressure levels.

Delphine Tang, DO
Delphine Tang, DO

Too much salt can lead to hypertension (high blood pressure), but other factors—some avoidable, some not—can also contribute to the condition. Delphine Tang, DO, an interventional cardiologist at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH) Rahway and a member of RWJBarnabas Health Medical Group, explains:

Risk Factors We Can’t Change

  • Age – “Our blood vessels tend to harden as we get older and the vessels become less compliant,” explains Dr. Tang.
  • Gender – “Women are more likely to develop high blood pressure after menopause, perhaps because of changing hormone levels,” says Dr. Tang.
  • Race – African Americans are at greater risk of developing high blood pressure.
  • Family History – High blood pressure often runs in families.

Risk Factors We Can Change

  • Excess Weight – Carrying too much weight puts an extra strain on your heart and circulatory system. Losing even as few as 10 pounds can help reduce the pressure.
  • Nicotine – “Smoking can damage blood vessels and create changes that increase blood pressure,” explains Dr. Tang. In addition, nicotine from smoking or vaping has the effect of raising blood pressure. (For a free quit-smoking program, visit the Nicotine and Tobacco Recovery Program.)
  • Alcohol – “Two servings per day for men and one for women is usually okay. But more, or binge drinking, can cause increased blood pressure,” says Dr. Tang.
  • Diet – Diets high in sugary foods and saturated fats can cause an increase in blood pressure. Other fats—such as the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, nuts and seeds—can help to lower it.
  • Physical Activity – Regular physical activity makes the heart stronger, so it can pump more blood with less effort. To protect your heart, get at least 150 minutes of physical activity each week (about 30 minutes a day, five days a week). That activity can include active household chores, gardening, climbing stairs, walking, biking or dancing.
  • Stress – High levels of stress can lead to a temporary rise in blood pressure. Prolonged stress can be more harmful.
  • Herbal Remedies – “Some herbal supplements that we don’t think about can cause high blood pressure, including ginseng and St. John’s wort,” says Dr. Tang.
  • Medications – “Patients who already have high blood pressure are usually advised not to take cough medicines, decongestants or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, known as NSAIDS, such as ibuprofen,” says Dr. Tang. Birth control pills, some prescription drugs and illegal drugs such as cocaine and amphetamines may also contribute to hypertension.
  • Other Medical Conditions – “Certain medical conditions can be secondary causes of high blood pressure,” says Dr. Tang. These include sleep apnea, kidney disease, diabetes, adrenal gland tumors and thyroid problems.

It’s important to get high blood pressure under control, because if left untreated it can damage the heart, brain, kidneys and eyes. If you’ve been diagnosed with high blood pressure, talk to your doctor about which of these factors might be contributing to it and what you can do to make changes that will help lower the pressure. At-home blood pressure monitors may be useful, and prescription medication can also help.

What Do The Numbers Mean?

Blood pressure numbers at or below 120/80 are considered in the normal range. If either the top or bottom number is above the normal range, a person’s blood pressure is considered elevated.

Systolic blood pressure, the top number, indicates how much pressure your blood is exerting against your artery walls when the heart beats.

Diastolic blood pressure, the second number, indicates how much pressure your blood is exerting against your artery walls while the heart is resting between beats.

Source: American Heart Association

Whoever your heart beats for, our hearts beat for you. To connect with a top cardiovascular specialist at RWJUH Rahway, call 888-724-7123 or visit Heart and Vascular Care.