Quick -– what causes high blood pressure? The first culprits that pop into your mind are likely to be: eating too much salt, being stressed out all the time, and alcohol abuse. And you would be right. But there are also less obvious causes of high blood pressure, a condition that affects about one in three, or 78 million, adults in the U.S.
“The best data demonstrates that hypertension is almost unavoidable as we age,” says Clyde Yancy, MD, chief of cardiology and associate director of the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute in Chicago, Illinois. “Once we reach age 55, we have a 90 percent chance of becoming hypertensive."
Yet that inevitability doesn’t mean we can’t do something about it. Step one is to modify your lifestyle: lose weight, exercise, and eat a wholesome diet, explains Dr. Yancy. Another thing you can do: Get to know these less well-known blood pressure factors:
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A new study published in the journal Hypertension
says the chemical BPA found in the lining of some of cans and plastic bottles could seep into food and drink and raise blood pressure. Previous studies have shown that chronic exposure to BPA is associated with heart disease and high blood pressure. This newest study is the first to show a direct and quick impact on blood pressure levels.
Though it’s too soon to comment about the certainty about the consequences, Dr. Yancy notes, “we should continue to think about this carefully.” In the meantime, reduce your risk by using BPA-free products, eat less canned food, and opt for non-plastic containers, like glass, porcelain or stainless steel, when serving hot foods and liquid. Also, avoid microwaving plastic food containers made with BPA, as the chemical may break down over time from repeated use at high temperatures.
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Too much of the sweet stuff may not just be bad for your waistline—it can be bad for your blood pressure, too. In fact, sugar may hurt your heart health more than salt, say many experts. Recent research published in several medical journals suggests that dietary guidelines for treating high blood pressure should focus on reducing the amount of added sugars. They blame fructose in particular, the sugar that is generally added to processed foods and drinks, for being the major player in the development of hypertension.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends women eat no more than six teaspoons (100 calories) of added sugar per day and no more than nine (150 calories) for men. For example, just one 16-ounce can of non-diet soda contains more than nine teaspoons of added sugar! A good place to start reducing consumption would be to limit processed foods, which are most likely to contain high amounts of the more-dangerous type of sugar.
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Turns out this common disorder, which often goes undiagnosed, leads snoring, restless nights—and possibly, elevated blood pressure. That’s because, says the National Sleep Foundation, when your breathing is interrupted, the oxygen level in your body falls. Your brain then sends signals through your nervous system to increase the flow of oxygen to the heart and brain, thereby tightening up your blood vessels. Frequent drops in your blood oxygen level, along with reduced quality of sleep, can also trigger the release of stress hormones, which raise your heart rate and increase your risk for high blood pressure.
Lifestyle changes (like losing weight if you are overweight), mouthpieces, surgery and breathing devices can successfully treat sleep apnea.
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Spending time with friends has been linked to better health and well-being, but the flip side of that—feeling lonesome—takes a toll not only on your confidence, happiness and stress levels, but also on your blood pressure. So says a five-year study at the University of Chicago, which, for the first time, showed a direct correlation between loneliness and high blood pressure among people 50 years old and older. Blood pressure increase was first observed two years into the study, and continued to increase until four years later.
“Conversely, when you’re with close friends and have social supports you can depend on, you tend to feel more relaxed,” says friendship expert Irene S. Levine, Ph.D., who is also a professor of psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine. “Set aside time for friendships, but recognize that not all of them last forever. That’s why it’s important to cultivate new friendships, too,” she says.
Hot tubs and saunas
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Ahhh… that heat feels good, especially when it’s cold outside or your muscles and joints ache. But beware of hot tubs and saunas if you already have high blood pressure, says the AHA.
Since the heat from hot tubs and saunas causes blood vessels to open up (similar to what happens during normal activities, like a brisk walk), the AHA says that if your doctor has told you to avoid moderate exercise, you should use caution when considering hot tubs and saunas. Saunas are particularly problematic, since the temperature is difficult to control, he says. “If you do use a hot tub, set the temperature to about 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and be careful you don’t overheat.”
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Prescription and over-the-counter medications are designed to enhance your health, right? Yes, but certain drugs could be putting your blood pressure at risk, finds a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
According to the Mayo Clinic, people who take acetaminophen (Tylenol) daily are more likely to develop high blood pressure than those who don’t take it. Also, certain pain and anti-inflammatory medications can raise your blood pressure, including ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB) and naproxen sodium (Aleve). And if you take an antidepressant, check your blood pressure regularly—Venlafaxine (Effexor), Bupropion (Wellbutrin), and Desipramine (Norpramin) have been shown to raise blood pressure. Even certain herbal supplements, like ginseng, licorice and ephedra (ma huang), may have the same effect. Decongestants (or medications that contain them), as well as inhalers (both prescribed and over-the-counter) can also promote a higher blood pressure, warns Dr. Yancy.Always remember to check with your doctor or pharmacist if you’re concerned about your medications and your blood pressure.
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A 2007 study published in the Journal Hypertension reported a correlation between hypothyroidism (when the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone) and high blood pressure. When compared with volunteers, patients with the condition had significantly higher blood pressure readings. Conversely, hyperthyroidism (when there’s too much hormone produced) can also result in higher-than-normal blood pressure readings.
And then there’s a condition known as hyperparathyroidism, one type of which may be accountable for a high reading as well. This parathyroid condition affects hormone regulation and can result in too much calcium in the blood which has been associated with elevated blood pressure, says the Mayo Clinic.
The Stakes Have Never Been Higher