Understanding and Preventing High Blood Pressure

Sometimes high blood pressure is called the “silent killer” because there are usually no symptoms. This is why doctors check blood pressure regularly. Blood pressure is the strain blood flow places against arteries as your heart pumps blood throughout your body. Blood pressure rises and falls throughout the day, but health problems can arise when it remains high for an extended time period. When someone has high blood pressure, also called hypertension, arteries face an increased resistance to blood flow. In reaction, your heart has to pump harder to circulate blood and elevates the risk of a heart attack or stroke.

Hypertension Risk Factors

Many factors can increase your risk for developing high blood pressure. Understanding your risk factors is important if you want to avoid developing or making high blood pressure worse.


Not only does smoking raise your blood pressure temporarily, but it also can damage arteries. This can cause your arteries to narrow which can cause long term spikes in blood pressure. Chewing tobacco has the same effect.

Increasing Age

Risk increases the older you become. For men, high blood pressure becomes more common after age 45. Women are more likely to develop hypertension after the age of 65.

Being Overweight or Obese

Extra weight puts extra strain on your heart and circulatory system and can cause cardiovascular disease. If you are overweight or obese learn what your options are for weight-loss. Even modest weight-loss has big benefits for your health.

Moderate to Heavy Drinking

Drinking too much alcohol can lead to heart damage over time. Women who drink should limit themselves to one drink a day, and men should limit themselves to two. Anything above that may raise blood pressure. One drink is defined as 5 ounces of wine, 1.5 ounces of liquor or 12 ounces of beer.

Taking Oral Contraceptives

Women who take oral contraceptives may experience increased blood pressure and risk of cardiovascular disease. This does not usually occur in younger women, but severe hypertension can occur in women who smoke or who have previously developed hypertension in pregnancy.


Stress temporarily raises blood pressure, and often leads to drinking alcohol, smoking or eating unhealthy foods to cope. These activities are linked to heart attack, stroke and hypertension. Seek out methods to reduce stress in your life.


African Americans are at a higher risk for hypertension. Some theories about the prevalence of high blood pressure in African Americans include higher rates of obesity and diabetes.

Not Getting Enough Exercise

If you aren’t physically active, you are more likely to have high blood pressure. If your heart can work less to pump blood throughout your body, the force on your arteries is decreased and your blood pressure stays lower overall. Exercise also helps you manage your weight, which in turn keeps blood pressure low.


If you have diabetes, monitoring blood pressure is important. Often hypertension and diabetes go hand-in-hand, so keeping tabs on both conditions is vital for managing your health.

Treating High Blood Pressure

When uncontrolled blood pressure is left untreated it can cause stroke, heart attack, aneurysm, heart failure, metabolic syndrome, kidney failure or memory problems. High blood pressure can be improved by lifestyle changes and/or blood pressure medications. If you have high blood pressure, we will work closely with you to help lower your blood pressure and improve your overall health.

If you need a referral to a hypertension specialist affiliated with South Texas Health System Heart, call the South Texas Health System Reserve and Learn line at 800-879-1033.​