High blood pressure is a serious medical condition. It's one of the leading risk factors for heart disease and early death, according to the American College of Cardiology (ACC). It's also really common—nearly 1 in 2 adults in the U.S. has it, according to the ACC/American Heart Association (AHA) High Blood Pressure Guidelines.
Anyone can get high blood pressure. Fortunately, a number of the factors that increase your risk are things you can change.
Risk factors that are under your control
According to the AHA, risk factors that you can change to help prevent and manage high blood pressure include:
Living a sedentary life. Not getting enough regular physical activity raises your risk for high blood pressure. Physical activity is also good for your heart in general, so it's a win-win. Be sure to check with your doctor before starting a new exercise regimen.
What you can do: Learn how to overcome barriers to exercise.
Eating an unhealthy diet, especially one high in sodium. Focusing on good nutrition—like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy—is important. Eating foods that are high in sodium (salt), and high in calories, saturated and trans fats, and sugar increase your risk for high blood pressure and other chronic health conditions.
What you can do: Learn more about cutting back on sodium.
Being overweight or obese. Excess weight adds to your risk for high blood pressure.
What you can do: Check your body mass index.
Drinking alcohol. Regular, excessive use of alcohol doesn't just raise your blood pressure, it increases your risk for other cardiovascular problems like heart failure and stroke.
What you can do: Learn more about how alcohol damages the body.
Sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea—a sleeping disorder—may raise your risk for high blood pressure.
What you can do: Assess your sleep.
High cholesterol. Most people who have high blood pressure have high levels of cholesterol too.
What you can do: Learn about lifestyle changes that can help you control cholesterol.
Diabetes. According to the AHA, most people who have diabetes also develop high blood pressure.
What you can do: Check your risk for type 2 diabetes and take steps to prevent the disease.
Smoking. Smoking tobacco can temporarily increase your blood pressure and add to arterial damage.
What you can do: If you smoke, make a plan to quit.
Stress. Too much stress can raise your blood pressure.
What you can do: Get tips for managing stress in the Stress and Anxiety health topic center.
Risks you can't change
Some things that raise your risk for high blood pressure are outside your control. According to the AHA, they include:
Family history. If your parents or other close relatives have high blood pressure, you're at increased risk for having it too.
Age. You're more likely to get high blood pressure as you grow older.
Gender. Until age 64, men are more likely to get high blood pressure than women. From age 65 and up, women are more likely to get high blood pressure than men.
Race. African Americans are more likely to develop high blood pressure than people of any other racial background in the U.S. High blood pressure also tends to be more severe in African Americans, and some drug treatments are less effective.
Chronic kidney disease. People with chronic kidney disease are at increased risk for high blood pressure. Having high blood pressure also can worsen the effects of chronic kidney disease.
For more information about preventing and controlling this common condition, visit the High Blood Pressure health topic center.