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Step 3: What causes high blood pressure?
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Although the exact cause of high blood pressure is almost always unknown, many different things can influence it. For example, your blood pressure is affected by what you eat, how much water and blood are in your body, and salt intake. Blood pressure is also influenced by both the health of your kidneys and certain hormones circulating in the body.

When the cause is NOT known

The term "essential" hypertension is used when the exact cause cannot be determined. Essential hypertension cannot be cured, but in most cases it can be controlled with lifestyle changes and medication.

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Essential hypertension - genetic and other factors

When the cause is known

Sometimes high blood pressure can be attributed to a specific condition. In these cases, doctors call it "secondary" hypertension. Such causes include:

  • Tumors of the adrenal gland
  • Stenosis or blockage of an artery supplying blood to the kidney
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Hormone abnormalities
  • Use of birth control pills
  • Pregnancy
  • Sleep disordered breathing

Secondary hypertension is usually reversible if its cause is treated. Read more about secondary hypertension.

Certain medications can also cause high blood pressure as a side effect. Make sure to ask your doctor or pharmacist about the side effects of the medications you take.


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Review Date: 6/8/2011
Reviewed By: Steven Kang, MD, Division of Cardiac Pacing and Electrophysiology, East Bay Arrhythmia, Cardiovascular Consultants Medical Group, Oakland, CA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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