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How Does Hypertension Happen?

Nina Ghamrawi, MS, RD, CDE
June 6, 2024
June 6, 2024

While our blood pressure naturally rises and falls throughout the day, high blood pressure can develop over time. It can be caused by unhealthy lifestyle choices, stress, medical conditions, or a combination of these. Sometimes our motivation to take care of ourselves and keep up a healthy routine depends on our knowledge about our body. Here, we will tell you why and how blood pressure rises.

Why Blood Pressure is High?

It can happen because of unhealthy lifestyle choices, such as not getting enough regular physical activity, smoking, or a poor diet. Certain health conditions, such as diabetes and having obesity, can also increase the risk for developing high blood pressure. High blood pressure can also happen during pregnancy.

Usually, when we are young and healthy, our arteries and veins are very elastic - they expand, and shrink back down depending on how much blood is pumping through them. But there are 2 main things that cause problems in the arteries  and make blood pressure rise:

  1. Your arteries become less elastic, and more hard over time.
  2. Problems in other organs cause a backup of blood and high blood pressure going into the organ (called secondary hypertension).

Why Do We Need Artery Elasticity?

When we are young, as we exercise, our blood pressure naturally rises, pushing against and stretching the artery walls, causing them to expand. When our exercise ends, our arteries relax back to neutral state.

Repeated exercise as we are young enables our arteries to continuously expand and contract, keeping them elastic. But as we age and exercise less often, our arteries may have long periods without expanding and contracting healthfully, leading them to become harder, and less elastic.

We need our arteries to remain elastic as we age to better respond to blood pressure changes. When our stress rises, or we exercise, it puts our body under a little more stress, making blood flow more, and faster. The increased blood flow will place more pressure on the artery walls. If the artery walls don’t give and expand under that stress, it will create increased pressure in the arteries, and cause your blood pressure to rise. But if your arteries are very elastic, they can expand more readily in these stressful situations, and your blood pressure is less likely to rise.

Keep your arteries healthy to prevent worse complications of high blood pressure.

When the heart beats, it pushes blood through the arteries in your entire body. When your arteries are hard and can’t expand well, higher blood pressures mean that with each beat, arteries throughout the body swell and stretch more than they would normally. This stretching can injure the artery walls, causing them to become even stiffer over time.

When the artery walls are injured, then more "bad" LDL cholesterol can build up and get stuck on the artery wall, eventually clogging the arteries and forming the plaque of atherosclerosis.

What Prevents Artery Blockages and Hard Arteries?

Exercise more, do it when you’re young, and get your kids and grandkids active regularly. This will help to keep your arteries elastic. Even if your diet is not perfect growing up, exercising when you’re young will help keep your heart healthy.If your doctor tells you that your arteries are stiffening, don’t lose hope. there is some research that states that with exercise, this stiffening is reversible. Talk to your doctor about what exercise is alright for you.

Avoid smoking, or quit if you already smoke. Smoking will also cause arteries to harden and become less elastic over time.

Eating a healthful diet that is rich in antioxidants contained in fresh fruits and vegetables is helpful in controlling extra plaque buildup.

Controlling cholesterol by keeping the bad cholesterol down, and the good cholesterol up is crucial in keeping your arteries free and clear of plaque.

If You Have Been Diagnosed with Secondary Hypertension

If you’ve ever been diagnosed with high blood pressure due to a problem in another organ, otherwise known as ‘induced’ hypertension, the best solution to treat the blood pressure is to treat the organ causing the backup. For example, if the Hypertension is secondary, induced by liver disease, then follow your doctor’s guidance to treat the liver disease, and your blood pressure will likely fall in line.


Whether you are new to Hypertension and high blood pressure, or you’ve had it for a while, there are a few key things you should know about it:

  1. High blood pressure can be caused by arteries hardening over time. Eat healthy and exercise when you are young to prevent it. Eat healthy and exercise as you age to try to reverse it.
  2. High blood pressure can be caused by problems with other organs. Follow your doctor’s advice closely to treat the other organs.
  3. When blood pressure rises and falls a lot, or it stays high, this can lead to your arteries cracking and getting damaged and more hard. This will also lead to buildup and blockages inside them. High cholesterol will increase the risk of these arteries getting blocked.

Whatever you do - lower your blood pressure to lower your risks of heart disease and complications. If your blood pressure is high, your arteries likely have already developed some rigidity. Ask your doctor before adding in exercise to make sure it is safe for you, and always keep an eye on your cholesterol and keep it controlled.

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