The Causes of High Blood Pressure

by Glenn Gandelman, M.D., M.P.H. Health Professional

Today I would like to review some of the primary causes of High Blood Pressure.

In most cases, there is no clear cause of high blood pressure. The term "essential hypertension" is used in these instances. Doctors can often treat the high blood pressure but never cure it. However, there are some causes of high blood pressure which can not only be treated, but also be cured.

The body sometimes needs to increase blood pressure to maintain adequate flow of blood to the brain and other vital organs. For example, if the kidneys sense a decrease in blood flow they assume it is due to low blood pressure. The kidneys then produce a hormone to elevate the blood pressure. In reality, the cause of decreased blood flow may have nothing to do with low blood pressure at all. A blockage in the pipes through which the blood is delivered to the kidneys (renal arteries) may cause less blood. The kidneys may thus raise blood pressure unnecessarily. This type of high blood pressure is difficult to treat and often requires many different blood pressure pills. In some cases, a cure of such high blood pressure is available. The blockage in the renal arteries can be opened allowing better blood flow. The kidneys then are no longer confused by decreased blood flow and stop trying to elevate the blood pressure. Patients I have treated with this problem often have normal blood pressure after the procedure and can stop taking all of their blood pressure pills.

Another curable cause of high blood pressure involves the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland is a structure in the neck which accelerates and slows many functions of the body. For example, an overactive thyroid can cause fast heart rate along with high blood pressure. I always check the thyroid function of my patients who have high blood pressure. If indeed it is elevated, medical and surgical procedures can help restore normal thyroid function and normal blood pressure.

Much like the thyroid gland, the adrenal glands can secrete a substance which elevates blood pressure. This too can be treated and should be evaluated with blood tests when diagnosing high blood pressure.

Finally, an important cause of high blood pressure is diet and physical activity. Increased salt intake, obesity, and inactivity can all contribute to high blood pressure. I make a point of discussing each of these issues on every visit with patients with high blood pressure.

High blood pressure contributes to many medical problems including heart and kidney disease. When high blood pressure is found I search for its rare curable causes. Even though high blood pressure is often not curable, it can usually be treated. My treatment combines diet, exercise, weight loss, and medication in most patients. Be sure to speak with your physician to see what is appropriate for you.

Glenn Gandelman, M.D., M.P.H.
Meet Our Writer
Glenn Gandelman, M.D., M.P.H.

Dr. Glenn Gandelman is board certified in internal medicine, cardiology, echocardiography, and nuclear medicine. He specializes in prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cardiovascular disease. He wrote for HealthCentral as a health professional for Heart Disease and High Blood Pressure.