High blood pressure (hypertension) is a common condition, affecting more than 30 percent of adult Americans. It is a leading cause of heart attacks and strokes. It is often called a “silent killer,” because it usually doesn’t cause any symptoms, even when it’s dangerously high. In fact, many people have high blood pressure for years before it’s diagnosed.

Blood pressure is the force your blood exerts on the inner walls of your arteries as it flows through them. Narrowing of the arteries makes the heart pump harder, which increases blood pressure. The longer your blood pressure is high, the more likely the condition is to damage your health.

Causes of High Blood Pressure

In as many as 95 percent of people with high blood pressure no cause can be identified. Some people develop hypertension because of other conditions, like kidney problems, adrenal gland tumors, congenital blood vessel defects, and pregnancy. Over-the-counter and prescription medications, including pain relievers, cold remedies and appetite suppressants can also raise your blood pressure.

Risk factors for high blood pressure include:

  • Gender: High blood pressure affects more men than women.
  • Age: The older you are, the higher your risk.
  • Race: High blood pressure is more common in African-Americans.
  • Family history of high blood pressure
  • Obesity
  • Inactivity
  • Smoking or chewing tobacco
  • Excessive alcohol intake
  • High stress levels
  • High-sodium diet
  • Potassium deficiency
  • Certain chronic diseases and disorders, including kidney disease, diabetes and high cholesterol

Complications From High Blood Pressure

Untreated, high blood pressure can cause serious complications, including:

  • Atherosclerosis: Artery hardening and thickening, which can cause a heart attack or stroke
  • Aneurysm: Weakening and bulging in the blood vessels, which can rupture and become life-threatening
  • Heart failure
  • Kidney damage
  • Vision loss
  • Memory problems

High blood pressure cannot be cured. Once you have high blood pressure, you can expect to have it for the rest of your life. Fortunately, it can be treated and stabilized within a normal range with medication and lifestyle changes.