High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)
In addition to arteries that become less flexible as you age, your blood vessels may also become coated with a fatty substance called plaque. This causes the inside of your blood vessels to narrow. This condition is called atherosclerosis. It is often caused by high levels of cholesterol in your blood.
Changes in your body’s ability to regulate sodium (salt) and water also play a role in high blood pressure. Approximately two-thirds of older adults are sensitive to salt. If you are one of them, 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. Also, the higher 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 African Americans and often shows up at an earlier age in this population)
- Family history
- Physical inactivity
- Drinking too much alcohol
- A high-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
Last Updated December 2017