High Blood Pressure: Risk Factors


As outlined by the NHS, high blood pressure refers to a reading of 140/90 mmHg on a blood pressure reading machine (sphygmomanometer) or 150/90 mmHg if you are older than the age of 80. 

Blood pressure generally refers to a measure of the force with which blood is pumped throughout the body. It can be high due to a variety of conditions, genetics, environmental and lifestyle factors. However, high blood pressure also refers to hypertension as an indicator of poor health and could contribute to, increase the predisposition or the severity of  pre-existing conditions. 

Hypertension has different grades that include:

  • Mild Hypertension (Grade 1) 140/90 mmHg - 159/90 mmHg
  • Moderate Hypertension (Grade 2) 160 mm/Hg - 169 mm/Hg
  • Severe Hypertension (Grade 3) 180 mm/Hg  or higher 

Hypertension can also be differentiated on the basis of its origin or cause. In most cases the cause is unknown. This could be due to a wide range of factors such as diet, lifestyle, genetics, age, gender, ethnicity, and psychological states. This is referred to as essential hypertension. 

In cases where high blood pressure is caused as a result of a pre-existing health condition, it is referred to as secondary hypertension. 

A range of health conditions can cause high blood pressure, including obesity, diabetes, kidney problems, anxiety, major depressive disorder, sleep apnea, thyroid and/or other problems. 

Signs and symptoms

High Blood Pressure or hypertension rarely has noticeable symptoms. However, it increases your risk of developing primarily cardiovascular diseases. This applies to mild and moderate hypertension. Severe hypertension requires immediate medical care. 

However, there is a general set of symptoms that have been reported by individuals living with hypertension or have experienced related incidents, that include but are not limited to the following:

  • Nausea and/or vomiting 
  • Pounding in your chest
  • Irregular heartbeats
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness 
  • Nervousness 
  • Sweating
  • Chest Pain
  • Blood in the urine
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Hot flashes
  • Nosebleed
  • Vision problems
  • Facial flushing
  • Severe headaches
  • Blood spots in the eye

Can you reverse this disease?

As of now, there has not been a significant cure to hypertension, i.e. it is not completely reversible, however, every cloud has a silver lining, and that applies here as well. 

It is possible, in most cases, to control hypertension whilst leading fuller, healthier and more robust lives. 

Lifestyle factors

The following lifestyle factors have a high impact on increasing your risk of cardiovascular diseases. Controlling the following lifestyle factors can help you reduce the risks.


Nutrition is vital in tackling hypertension. The food that we consume is essentially broken down by chemicals into the body. The energy produced during the breakdown of food products is directed to energy stores to be saved for future use. Nutrition is therefore the basis of our activities and is the fuel that we need to function. 

When you consume an unbalanced diet, certain foods can increase your risk of hypertension due to their chemical properties.

Foods to look out for

As evidenced by research, foods rich in magnesium salts and saturated fats can increase your levels of cholesterol and triglyceride ,and cause an electrolyte imbalance in the body. ⁴

High fat content foods such as processed foods, soft drinks, crisps, biscuits, confectionery, chocolates, and red meat, can promote the build up of fats within the arteries and can constrict them, thereby contributing to high blood pressure. 

People who drink too much caffeinated drinks should watch out. Though there isn’t a direct relation between caffeine and hypertension research suggests a weak link. The  chemical properties that can cause it to raise blood pressure as it affects the neurotransmitters message transporters) in the brain. ³

Foods good for avoiding hypertension

Food rich in  unsaturated fats (good fats)  and minerals and vitamins can help maintain your cholestrol level and blood pressure. Examples of such foods are green leafy vegetables, plant based alternatives, virgin olive oil, dark chocolate, sweet potatoes, berries such as raspberries, oats, cous-cous, quinoa, buckwheat, natural yogurt and cinnamon.

Research indicates that nutritional supplements can help lower blood pressure in individuals who have essential hypertension. This includes vitamin C supplements that are available in the form of tablets, edible, water soluble tablets and more. In addition to this Vitamin E and Vitamin B6 can also aid the process. 

They do so by preventing some of the causes of essential hypertension. They also increase the rate of metabolism of carbohydrates (breakdown of sugars and carbohydrates ingested from our diets), promote proper energy storage, equalise and normalise associated chemical processes or pathways.⁵

For those who prefer vegetarian/vegan diets, Vitamin E can be found in sunflower seeds, almonds, peanuts, hazelnut, avocado, bell peppers, brazil nuts, mangos, kiwis and pine nuts. 

Alternatively,  goose meat, trout, fish roe, cod, octopus, crayfish, snails, salmon and lobster are also wonderful sources. 

Fruits such as black currants, olives, cranberries, blackberries, apricots and raspberries and vegetables like turnips, asparagus, cooked broccoli, butternut squash, spinach and swiss chard are all beneficial in terms of Vitamin E intake. Vitamin B6 can be found in poultry including chicken and turkey, milk, wheatgerm and its oil, bananas, milk, peanuts, oats, some fish and pork. Additionally; nuts, breakfast cereals, seedless raisins, tofu and watermelon can also be beneficial.

For diet and nutrition related tools click on the links below:

- Information about balanced diets

- Sugar, salt, fiber and fat levels in food  

Physical activity 

Exercise is beneficial in promoting a sense of general physical and mental wellbeing. This is because exercise is primarily associated with the regulation of metabolic and homeostatic processes in the body. 

This simply means that it helps regulate the activities that occur within the body and maintain the necessary fluid: electrolyte balance in the body. Exercise also improves cardiovascular health by promoting healthy blood flow and stronger cardiac functioning.  

It is also evidenced in research that exercise is an astute management therapy. It can improve hormonal balance and muscle functioning and  is also responsible for the release of endorphins which are hormones that promote general mental wellbeing. It can also help improve mental health amongst other innumerable benefits. ²

Additionally, if you are at risk of developing hypertension due to familial history, exercise can potentially help you prevent its manifestation 

Not everyone is a big fan of the gym. In such situations, there are a variety of alternative tools at your disposal to improve your health. 

Long brisk walks, jogs, yoga, martial arts, swimming, tennis, squash, netball, polo, tai chi, hiking, biking, spinning, zumba, aerobics, water aerobics and more, are beneficial options. 

Even daily exercise for 15-20 minutes could  highly benefit you. 

For exercise related information, feel free to check out these tools:

- Measures of moderate activity

- Getting started on exercise


Obesity is a strong factor in the development of hypertension and its complications come in the form of heart attacks and other cardiovascular problems. 

Scientific research from the European Society of Cardiology shows how body fat is linked to hypertension and heart attacks (European Society of Cardiology, 2020). 

Obesity causes the malfunctioning of various metabolic and regulatory pathways. This creates an imbalance in the body promoting high blood pressure. 

It can also be caused due to increased pressure on the systems due to abnormal fat distribution and due to the potential build-up of fats in the walls of the arteries responsible for transporting blood, by causing them to constrict. 

Therefore, it is important to understand how to prevent obesity in order to prevent the progression of hypertension. 

High body fat percentage, obesity, high BMI (above 31), high waist to hip ratio (WHR) and being overweight significantly increase the risk of hypertension. 

A good combination of diet and exercise, as well as making sure your mental and physical health is regularly checked, can help prevent obesity. 

For tools on weight maintenance click on the links below:

- Seeking medical advice for weight loss

- BMI calculator 

- Weight loss Tips  

- Email support for weight loss

- Calculating the amount of weight you need to lose

- Weight loss Plan

- Calorie counting


Smoking has a definite known correlation to the prevalence of hypertension in those who smoke, or experience secondhand smoke. Smoking contains carbon monoxide, tar, nicotine and other toxins and carcinogens that contribute to poor cardiac functioning. 

Tar and other chemicals can build up within the arteries, in the form of clots. This is because the body recognises these chemicals as forgein, thus eliciting an immune response involving platelet activation and other vascular and cardiac activities, and their chemical components upon breaking down affect cells and cellular organelles, thus affecting their regular function. 

Nicotine can increase blood pressure and affect the normal brain cell receptors as it is associated with the secretion of neurotransmitters, or brain chemicals involved with the transport of messages within the body. 

Tar can further cause lung disease, circulation problems and increase the susceptibility of lungs to infections (Virdis, et al., 2010).

E-cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, shisha,  and low tar cigarettes are all harmful and should be avoided as much as possible.

For tools to quit smoking, click on the links below:

- NHS Smokefree website

- Quit Smoking treatments

- Information on stopping smoking


Short-term, binge drinking episodes or long-term, chronic drinking both have damaging health effects. Alcohol use can increase blood pressure and increase pressure on the kidneys to excrete the harmful chemical components present in alcohol. 

It can also decrease the ability of the tissues within the body to absorb nutrients. It decreases abilities of coordination and balance and eventually causes fatigue, whilst exacerbating dehydration. Alcohol can also break down and deposit in the arteries causing obstruction and reduced blood flow throughout the body. 

All of this ends with an increase in blood pressure. If you have other underlying health conditions or a predisposition to developing hypertension, you must consider the risks associated with drinking. 

Research is also indicative of the link between alcohol consumption and hypertension. 

It also implies that individuals who do not consume alcohol or are moderate drinkers or social drinkers have a reduced risk of developing hypertension or increasing its progression and severity. ¹⁶

For tools related to alcohol consumption and reduction, click on the links given below: 

- Alcohol consumption facts

- Tips to reduce drinking

- Support for quitting alcohol and maintaining sobriety

- Information on overcoming alcohol addiction  


There is a known link between cardiovascular health and sleeping patterns, as evidenced by research. Reduced sleep, sleep fragmentation, poor sleep quality, night sweats, sleep apnea and other sleep disturbances can not only affect daily activities but also affect circulation, cellular nutrition, hormonal balance and other metabolic functions within the body. 

Sleep deprivation and insomnia, as well as restless leg syndrome, that results in poor sleep and abnormal sleeping patterns, all contribute to an increased likelihood of developing hypertension. ²

To get better sleep, try maintaining a regular sleeping pattern that involves going to bed and waking up at the same time to regulate your body clock, exercising and staying active regularly in order to expend the energy that you consume through food, getting enough natural sunlight for vitamin D, avoiding having high calorie meals right before bed, cutting down on excess sugars and caffeine and if the inability to get sleep persists, it is worth considering speaking to your local healthcare provider to seek medical help.

For sleep-related tools click on the links below:

Mental health

Hypertension is highly common and with its incidence often associated with stress, major depressive disorder, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and other mental health conditions, as indicated by research. Other mood disorders and post-traumatic stress disorders are also linked with hypertension. 

Chronic mental health disorders can cause certain physiological effects such as increased cardiac activity, increased heart rate and beats per minute, increased blood pressure or hypertension, reduced blood flow and hormonal imbalances. 

Anxiety and anger are the main developers of stress that cause alterations in the neurological and endocrine systems i.e. brain functionality, pathways and hormonal balances can be affected by stress. 

This in turn has widespread effects on  a range of systems within the body, primarily the cardiovascular system.⁴

Mental health is therefore extremely important in terms of preventing cardiac disease and most importantly general health. 

Regular mental health checks, breathing techniques, behavioural therapy and more, are useful in ensuring mental wellbeing.

Feel free to check out some of these tools to help you with your mental health:


Wellness is an important factor in ensuring general physical and mental fitness. Psychology plays an important role in various aspects of our life with short term, temporary and long-term, chronic effects. Therefore practising self-care and self-awareness is extremely important. It can be something as minor as devoting ten minutes a day for meditation. 

Breathing exercises form a large part of wellness practises by promoting the flow of oxygen and other nutrients within the body, thus improving body functioning. 

Other activities that involve taking care of your mental and physical health include  taking breaks, relaxing and calming your body. 

Your body should be given the rest and attention it deserves in order to promote general wellbeing, health and happiness. 

Self care also includes consuming a balanced diet to provide your body with the nutrition that it needs, in addition to regular physical activity and mental stimulation. 

Feel free to check out some of the free well-being tools by clicking on the links given below:


Hypertension is highly prevalent and affects a large population of people worldwide. It is vital to discuss your health with your doctor in order to determine your risk towards developing hypertension or to prevent its progression if you have been diagnosed. 

It is also vital to understand the risk factors and symptoms in order to seek early medical treatment, curb its severity and the probability of further cardiovascular complications. 

Smoking and alcohol cessation are important lifestyle changes that can not only help tackle hypertension, but also, a wide range of health conditions and their occurence, nutrition and exercise contribute to hypertension management and prevention, as described above. 

Therefore, a balanced, proportional diet and light exercise, good lifestyle choices, maintaining good mental health and practising wellbeing and self care routines can immensely help in managing as well as preventing hypertension. 

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Ishana Gole

Master of Science - MS, Bioscience Entrepreneurship, UCL (University College London)
Ishana is a Biomedical Science student with a keen interest in neuroscience and past experience in online consulting, marketing and advertising.

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