Aspirus Media Center

Controllable and Uncontrollable Factors that Affect Blood Pressure

May is High Blood Pressure Education Month


Melissa Wendell, Nurse Practioner with Aspirus Cardiology

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.


Blood pressure represents the force that blood exerts against the walls of blood vessels as it is pumped by the heart muscle. Your blood pressure should be 120/80 mm/Hg or lower; hypertension is defined as any reading of 140/90 or higher.


“High blood pressure can affect your health in many ways, causing serious damage to your heart, brain, eyes, kidneys, abdomen and legs,” says Melissa Wendell, Nurse Practitioner with Aspirus Cardiology – Wausau. “Fortunately, a number of the factors that increase your risk for high blood pressure are things you can change, and in turn, lower your risk for other serious health problems.”


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 provider before starting a new exercise regimen.
  • 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.
  • Being overweight or obese. Excess weight adds to your risk for high blood pressure.
  • 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.
  • Sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea—a sleeping disorder—may raise your risk for high blood pressure.
  • High cholesterol. Most people who have high blood pressure have high levels of cholesterol too.
  • Diabetes. According to the AHA, most people who have diabetes also develop high blood pressure.
  • Smoking. Smoking tobacco can temporarily increase your blood pressure and add to arterial damage.
  • Stress. Too much stress can raise your blood pressure.

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.

In the United States, one out of every three deaths is caused by cardiovascular disease. Most who die suddenly from cardiovascular-related disease have no previous symptoms. Because of this, it is important to be aware of your heart risks. Learn your heart’s biological age and discover tips on risk factor reduction at


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