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Hypertension, or high blood pressure, can be a life-threatening medical condition. The cause, or pathogenesis, of hypertension depends on the type of hypertension involved. Little is known about the cause of primary hypertension other than it is congenital. The pathogenesis of secondary hypertension typically includes accompanying medical conditions, a sedentary lifestyle, an unhealthy diet, and structural defects. Some medications can cause high blood pressure, as can illicit drugs, alcohol, and tobacco.
Primary or essential hypertension has no known cause. Some people develop high blood pressure as they age, even if they have never exhibited any of the behaviors or health problems that are known to cause secondary hypertension. Some studies suggest this may have to do with structural abnormalities of the heart, arteries, and veins.
In secondary hypertension, people often inherit a tendency toward hypertension. In these cases, the pathogenesis of hypertension can be accelerated by weight gain and inactivity. People who are born with or develop diabetes are at risk for high blood pressure. Since the kidneys play a large role in cleansing the blood, people with a malfunctioning renal system may develop hypertension.
A sedentary lifestyle is a prevalent pathogenesis of hypertension, as well as a diet high in unhealthy fats. Both these factors can lead to poor circulation and obesity, other contributors to high blood pressure. Cutting out saturated fats, partially-hydrogenated oils, and trans fats usually keeps dangerous plaque from building up in the arteries. Physical exercise helps reduce triglycerides, or fats in the blood, which can have a beneficial effect on reducing the risk of hypertension.
Eating too much salt is also related to the pathogenesis of hypertension. The diets of many people contain much more than the 500 to 2,400 milligrams of sodium their bodies require each day. Sodium is often hidden in packaged and processed foods. Some items on fast food menus contain an entire day’s worth of sodium. Some people do not process sodium properly, which can lead to a hypertensive condition.
Too little potassium in the diet is also a typical pathogenesis of hypertension. Potassium, contained in foods like bananas and avocados, keeps sodium levels in balance. If potassium levels are too low or a person cannot absorb or process potassium, sodium levels are likely to stay elevated, often leading to high blood pressure.
Medications such as decongestants, birth control pills, and cold medicines can sometimes become a pathogenesis of hypertension. Drinking alcohol and using tobacco products can also cause hypertension over time. Stimulants like amphetamines and cocaine can raise blood pressure to dangerous levels.