Who Gets High Blood Pressure? How Likely You Are to Get Hypertension (and How to Prevent It)

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer among Americans nationwide. Among its greatest contributors is high blood pressure — dangerous because of its lack of noticeable symptoms.

While it might seem like there’s nothing you can do to avoid it — your parents have it, your doctor has warned you about it, changing your habits is hard — it might not be a lost cause. And taking steps to reduce your risk could be worth it.

Here’s how to know if you’re at risk for high blood pressure, what that could mean for the future of your health, and what to do about it right now.

Consequences of untreated high blood pressure

High blood pressure treatment

High blood pressure treatment | seb_ra/Getty Images

Blood moving at higher pressures through your arteries weakens their inner lining. Fats and other substances from your diet are more likely to collect in these damaged arteries, narrowing them and making it harder for blood to get through.

This causes your heart to go into overdrive and makes you more likely to have a heart attack or related life-threatening event. Excessive strain on your heart over time can also lead to heart failure.

High blood pressure doesn’t just hurt your heart, though. It can also affect the blood flowing to your brain. Damage to these arteries increases the chances of this blood flow becoming blocked, cutting off your brain’s supply of oxygen and causing a stroke. The condition also increases your risk for vascular dementia and mild cognitive impairment.

Your kidneys and eyes can also suffer permanent damage due to high blood pressure. Other effects include sexual dysfunction and sleep problems.

Who is most at risk?

According to the American Heart Association, there are both “fixed” and flexible risk factors that determine how likely you are to develop high blood pressure throughout your lifetime. You’re at a higher risk of getting hypertension if you:

  • Are over the age of 50
  • Have a family history of high blood pressure
  • Are African-American
  • Experience chronic stress
  • Are physically inactive
  • Smoke and/or drink alcohol excessively
  • Are overweight or obese
  • Follow unhealthy eating patterns
  • Have sleep apnea
  • Live with diabetes
  • Have been diagnosed with high cholesterol.

You can’t stop yourself from aging, change your race, or “fix” your genes. These are the risk factors you’re stuck with, and you’re automatically at an increased risk of developing high blood pressure if you fall into any of those three categories.

But the good news is that the rest of the risk-determining factors on this list are completely modifiable. Taking care of them can lower your risk, as well as treat already existing blood pressure issues — and maybe even prevent them entirely.

Prevention of high blood pressure: How to lower your risk

Girl tying a shoelace before workout

Girl tying a shoelace before workout | iStock.com/funduck

Looking at the flexible risk factors for high blood pressure, the first steps to take when trying to treat your condition or lower your risk seem fairly straightforward.

  • Engage in physical activity for at least 30 minutes, five days a week
  • Follow a diet that includes a variety of whole grains, animal proteins, and other plants
  • Monitor your alcohol intake and stop smoking
  • Adopt healthy stress-management strategies
  • Lose weight or maintain a healthy weight.

However, change — especially when it comes to your heatlh — is often easier said than done. If you’re looking for an easy-to-follow diet plan, this is the one doctors recommend most. There are also simple exercises you can do to strengthen your heart and keep your blood pressure at a healthy level.