How common is high blood pressure, and who is at risk?
One in 3 American adults has high blood pressure. This includes 36 million women—31% of white women, 45% of African-American women, and 29% of Mexican-American women.6 Another 28% of all adults have prehypertension. Isolated systolic hypertension affects 30% of women over the age of 65.7
There are many factors that affect your risk of developing high blood pressure. Blood pressure tends to increase with age, making you more likely to get high blood pressure as you get older. In people younger than 55 years, more men than women have high blood pressure. After age 55, more women than men have high blood pressure.
Your risk of developing high blood pressure also increases if you:
- Are overweight or obese
- Don’t get much exercise
- Have an unhealthy diet
- Have a family history of high blood pressure
- Are African American
- Have diabetes
- Have high cholesterol
- Drink too much alcohol
What causes high blood pressure?
Although there are many factors that increase your chance of developing high blood pressure, in most people the basic causes of high blood pressure are unknown. Less than 10% of high blood pressure cases are caused by another medical problem, such as kidney disease. This type of high blood pressure is called secondary hypertension. It is usually temporary and goes away when the original medical problem is corrected.
Can hormone therapy and birth control affect blood pressure in women?
While it is unusual, your blood pressure may go up if you are taking birth control pills or hormone therapy (HT) for menopausal symptoms, so it is important to have your blood pressure checked regularly.
African Americans tend to develop high blood pressure at an earlier age than people of other races.6 Their high blood pressure is also more severe and results in more complications. Both genetics and social factors are probably responsible.
One theory is that, to survive in a hot climate, Africans developed the ability to sweat a lot to cool down. When the body sweats, you lose not only water, but salt as well: to make up for the lost salt, Africans have a strong taste for salt and their kidneys retain more salt than other races. While these adaptations enabled Africans to survive in a hot climate where salt was scarce, in people of African descent who have access to a high-salt Western diet, they result in high blood pressure.8
In addition, African-American women are more likely than women of other races to be physically inactive and overweight or obese—risk factors for high blood pressure. Economically disadvantaged African Americans are also less likely to have health insurance or get frequent checkups, allowing high blood pressure to develop unchecked and causing more complications. When African Americans with high blood pressure receive similar care to white patients, the race gap in complications is reduced or disappears.9