Know Your Risk Factors for High Blood Pressure

What increases your risk for high blood pressure?

A number of factors can put you at a greater risk for getting high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. Understanding these risk factors can help you be more aware of how likely you are to get high blood pressure.

Risk factors related to who you are

Common inherited and physical risk factors for high blood pressure include:

  • Family history: If your parents or other close blood relatives have high blood pressure, you have an increased chance of getting it, too. 
  • Age: As you get older, you are more likely to get high blood pressure. As we age, our blood vessels gradually lose some of their elastic quality. This can cause increased blood pressure. However, children can also develop high blood pressure. Learn more about children and high blood pressure.
  • Gender: Until age 64, men are more likely than women to get high blood pressure. At 65 and older, women are more likely to get high blood pressure. Learn more about women and high blood pressure.
  • Race: Certain racial and ethnic groups, such as Black, Hispanic and Asian adults, particularly males, have higher rates of high blood pressure. Historical and systemic factors, cultural practices and dietary habits can contribute to these differences. Learn more about high blood pressure among Black people.
  • Chronic kidney disease: High blood pressure may be caused by kidney disease. Having high blood pressure also may cause kidney damage.

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Modifiable risk factors

You can change these risk factors to help prevent and manage high blood pressure:

  • Lack of physical activity: Not getting enough physical activity increases your risk of getting high blood pressure. Physical activity is great for your heart and circulatory system, including blood pressure. Learn more about getting regular physical activity.

  • An unhealthy diet, especially one high in sodium: You need good nutrition from many sources for good health. Making healthy food choices can help lower blood pressure. A diet too high in these items can increase the risk of high blood pressure:
    • Sodium (salt)
    • Calories
    • Saturated and trans fats
    • Sugar

    Learn more about improving your diet.

  • Being overweight or obese: Too much weight puts an extra strain on your heart and circulatory system. This can cause serious health problems and increases your risk for:
    • Cardiovascular disease
    • Diabetes
    • High blood pressure 

    Learn more about managing your weight.

  • Drinking too much alcohol: Regular, heavy use of alcohol can cause many health problems. Those problems include heart failure, stroke and an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia). Too much alcohol can cause your blood pressure to increase. Learn more about alcohol, high blood pressure and the importance of moderation.

  • Sleep apnea: Obstructive sleep apnea may increase the risk of developing high blood pressure. It is common in people with resistant hypertension.

  • High cholesterol: More than half of the people with high blood pressure also have high cholesterol.

  • Diabetes: Most people with diabetes also develop high blood pressure.

  • Smoking and tobacco use: Using tobacco can cause your blood pressure to temporarily increase. It can also lead to damaged arteries. Exposure to other people’s smoke also increases the risk of heart disease for nonsmokers. Learn more about quitting smoking.

  • Stress: Stress is not always bad. But too much stress may lead to increased blood pressure. Also too much stress can lead to behaviors that increase blood pressure, such as:
    • Poor diet
    • Physical inactivity
    • Tobacco use
    • Drinking alcohol more than usual

    The amount of stress you live with can be influenced by your income level, job and education. This can affect your access to basic necessities, medication, health care and the ability to make healthy lifestyle changes. Learn more about managing your stress.

Preexisting medical conditions

A small number of high blood pressure cases are secondary hypertension. This is high blood pressure caused by another medical condition, such as:

  • Certain heart defects
  • Kidney disorders

If the condition causing the high blood pressure can be resolved, the person’s blood pressure will often get better.

Most of this page and this site refers to primary hypertension. That means high blood pressure with no specific cause. Most people with high blood pressure have a form of primary hypertension.