If your blood pressure is up, you have good reason to be concerned.
After all, high blood pressure can damage your arteries and lead to health problems, including heart attack, heart failure, kidney disease and stroke.
Certain factors, such as age, excess weight, a sedentary lifestyle and stress increase your risk.
"Think of your arteries as a plumbing system," explains Rupel Dedhia, MD, a primary care physician at Rush University Medical Center. "They move blood throughout your body just as pipes move water through a building. Sometimes, though, just as pipes can clog and narrow, the arteries narrow. Then pressure goes up in order to keep blood moving through."
Narrowing can happen for various reasons. Genetics may be partially responsible. What you ingest can also have an effect. Nicotine can narrow the arteries, and salt (sodium) makes you retain water, increasing blood volume and the workload for your heart and blood vessels. And more than two alcoholic drinks daily can raise blood pressure.
Common medications can even cause high blood pressure, including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories, corticosteroids, oral contraceptives and some cold medicines.
But when nothing else seems to explain high blood pressure, a medical cause could be the culprit.
In sleep apnea, for instance, interrupted breathing during sleep decreases oxygen levels, signaling blood vessels to rush more oxygen-rich blood to your heart and brain, making pressure go up.
And while high blood pressure can cause kidney disease, the opposite is also true. The kidneys release hormones that help regulate blood pressure, and damaged kidneys do this less effectively.
Treating such medical conditions may bring high blood pressure down. If not, your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes and possibly medication.
"Working closely with your doctor will help your blood pressure get back down to — and stay at — a healthy level," Dedhia says.
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