Aging & Health A to Z
High Blood Pressure
Causes & Symptoms
In addition to arteries that become less flexible as you age, your blood vessels may also become coated with a fatty substance (plaque), which causes a narrowing of the inside of the vessels. Called atherosclerosis, this condition is often caused by high levels of cholesterol in your blood.
Changes in your body’s ability to regulate salt (sodium) and water also play a role in high blood pressure. If you’re among the two thirds of older adults who are salt-sensitive, your body will retain extra fluid. This increases the amount of blood that your heart has to pump. If you have certain forms of kidney disease, this may be a problem for you. The heavier your weight, the more likely you are to have high blood pressure.
In addition to age, other factors that can lead to high blood pressure include:
- Race (high blood pressure is more common among blacks and often shows up at an earlier age in this population)
- Family history
- Physical inactivity
- Drinking too much alcohol
- A high-salt (sodium) diet, which can lead to fluid retention and an increase in blood volume
- Too little potassium in your diet—potassium helps regulate the amount of sodium in your cells, so low potassium can lead to an increase in sodium and blood volume
- Emotional stress
- Other chronic conditions, such as high cholesterol, diabetes, kidney disease, or sleep apnea
- Certain hormone or steroid medications.
Updated: March 2012
Posted: March 2012