Six Sneaky Causes of High Blood Pressure

By Lisa Bendall

Could you be at risk and not even know it?

Six Sneaky Causes of High Blood Pressure
photo: istock

1. Medications
Many prescription and over-the-counter medications can raise your blood pressure. These include antidepressants, birth-control pills, decongestants and paracetamol. It may also surprise you to know that the routine use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can lead to a blood pressure problem. They can also affect how some blood pressure pills work. “I see patients who are taking naproxen or ibuprofen daily,” says Dr Richard Ward, a primary care GP. “They should monitor their blood pressure, particularly if they’re on either for a long period of time.”

2. Herbal supplements
Natural remedies can have side effects, too, and sometimes affect either your blood pressure or the way your blood pressure medication is working. Particular pills to watch out for include arnica, bitter orange (also called Seville orange or zhi shi), ephedra (ma-huang), ginseng, guarana, St John’s wort, garlic, ginkgo and licorice root. If you’re being treated for hypertension, let your doctor know what herbal supplements you’re taking.

3. Sleep deprivation
Studies suggest that sleeping fewer than six hours a night might cause high blood pressure, or make an existing hyper­tensive condition worse. Researchers believe that adequate sleep is important for regulating stress hormones and keeping your nervous system in good health, both factors in maintaining healthy blood pressure. Aim for seven to eight hours of sleep a night.

4. Drinking fructose
In a 2010 study from the University of Colorado, men and women who consumed more fructose were more likely to develop high blood pressure. However, some scientists dispute this, saying that blood pressure is only raised with extremely high consumption of fructose. Fructose is a common ingredient in soft drinks, fruit drinks, sports drinks and flavoured water.

Want a drink that may help lower hypertension? The University of Western Australia released evidence that three cups of black tea a day can significantly lower blood pressure.

5. Alcohol and illegal drugs
Although small amounts of alcohol may have some health benefits, heavy drinking can boost your blood pressure or interfere with the medications you’re taking to control it. So can illegal drugs such as cocaine and amphetamines.

6. Stressing out
We’re still learning about the links between stress and blood pressure. We do know that when you’re feeling stressed, your blood pressure can temporarily surge higher. What’s not clear yet is whether chronic stress by itself leads to long-term hypertension. But it’s safe to say that when you’re stressed out, you may be more likely to eat too much, drink too much and not sleep enough, which are all causes of hypertension. Plus if you’re under stress, your self-care often suffers. You may skip your blood pressure medications, for example. But stress management techniques such as exercise and meditation help reduce your blood pressure, so why not reap all the benefits at once?

The more we know about factors that increase blood pressure, the easier it is to avoid them. “If we live long enough, about 95 per cent of us will develop high blood pressure,” Ward says. “But by maintaining a healthy lifestyle, we can push off that inevitable increase in blood pressure as long as possible.” 

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