High blood pressure impacts one in three individuals, which means there’s a pretty good chance you’ll have high blood pressure at some point in your life, if you don’t have it already. The facts are pretty clear – high blood pressure is an epidemic – and far too many individuals are unaware that their busy lifestyle is a cause.
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This article from Women’s Health breaks down the 8 most common missed causes of high blood pressure for women…
1. You Live In a Noisy Neighborhood
Being exposed to loud noises at work or at home, especially during the nighttime when you’re trying to sleep, has been linked to high blood pressure, according to a study published in Occupational & Environmental Medicine.
Why? Not only is the noise itself stressful (why do your neighbors have to listen to their TV on max volume?!), but it’s a double whammy at night as disrupted sleep has also been shown to cause high blood pressure, says Nicole Weinberg, M.D., cardiologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. If noisy neighbors, kids, or pets are keeping you up at night, consider using a white noise machine to drown out the anti-slumber sounds.
2. Your Paycheck Is Tiny
A low hourly wage sucks on multiple levels, and can contribute to many health complications, including high blood pressure—and that’s especially true for young women, according to a study published in The European Journal of Public Health.
“Wages are an important factor for people’s general sense of well-being and self-worth,” says J. Paul Leigh, Ph.D., senior author of the study and professor of public health economics at UC Davis. Feeling crappy about yourself (or worrying about paying the bills) can obviously lead to stress—one factor in high blood pressure, Leigh says.
Another factor is that low-paying jobs often don’t come with health insurance or the time off to do things like get annual check-ups, Weinberg says. It’s also hard to afford healthy food and a gym membership if you’re just scraping by, she adds.
3. Sweet And Salty Is Your Jam
Kettle corn. Fries dipped in a milkshake. Sea salt caramels. There’s just something so good about sweet and salty mixed together. Yet this delicious snack combo may be hurting your heart, more than eating something sweet or salty alone would, according to research from the American Physiological Society.
“The specific combination of fructose [sugar] and high salt rapidly increased blood pressure, resulting in hypertension,” says Kevin Gordish, Ph.D., lead author and a postdoctoral fellow at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.
What the heck? Sugar causes the body to retain extra sodium while also lessening its ability to get rid of the excess salt, he explains. So not only does eating sugar make you crave salty snacks, it forces your body to keep all the salt, which then can cause high blood pressure.
4. You Run On The Road
The more air pollution you’re exposed to on a daily basis, the more likely you are to have high blood pressure, even if you’re otherwise fit and healthy, says a study published in Hypertension.
Breathing in polluted air leads to inflammation which can cause changes in the arteries, a known factor in high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and heart attacks, explains Tao Liu, Ph.D., lead study author and deputy director and epidemiologist of the environmental health division at Guangdong Provincial Institute of Public Health in China.
Obviously, you can’t directly control the quality of the air where you live, but you can take precautions to avoid it as much as possible, including staying indoors on high-pollution days and avoiding running on busy roads.
5. You Rely On Caffeine
Caffeine is a powerful stimulant. This means it can wake you up, help you stay focused, and even get things moving in the bathroom. But this also means it spikes your blood pressure and stresses your heart, says Amber Khanna, M.D., a cardiologist at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital.
Over time, excess caffeine use can cause hypertension and long-term damage to your heart, she says. The key word here is moderation. A cup of coffee a day is fine; pounding five Red Bulls isn’t. It’s also smart to steer clear of diet or workout aids with added caffeine, she adds. And if you feel your heart racing after drinking anything with caffeine, it’s time to cut back.
6. You’re On The Pill
Women taking birth control pills containing estrogen (called combination birth control pills) are more likely to have high blood pressure and heart disease, per research published in the American Journal of Physiology. And the longer they are on the pill, the higher their risk.
“Higher hormone levels, particularly estrogen, compromise the integrity of blood vessels,” Weinberg explains. “They affect how they stretch and contract, which can make them more vulnerable to problems like tears, clots and hypertension.”
This risk of heart problems is greatly magnified for women who smoke, which is why doctors recommend that women who smoke use different birth control methods, she says.
7. You Live In A Cold Climate
The frozen wasteland you suffer through each winter can do a number on your blood pressure, per research in the American Journal of Physiology. You can thank an ancient survival mechanism for this. Cold weather constricts blood vessels to conserve heat and maintain body temperature, says Zhongjie Sun, M.D., Ph.D., lead author and an assistant professor of physiology and medicine at the University of Florida.
But with less room for blood to move, pressure rises—along with the risk of heart attack and stroke. Sun notes that the risk of fatal heart attack and stroke peaks during the winter. In the study, all it took to spike people’s blood pressure was five minutes outside in 52-degree Fahrenheit weather (which isn’t all that cold, honestly).
But don’t start looking for jobs in Florida yet; there are ways to deal with the cold and protect your heart. Sun advises dressing in layers to conserve body heat, easing into outdoor physical activity to minimize sudden changes in the heart’s workload, and avoiding extreme exertion or heavy lifting. Wearing a hat, scarf, and gloves will minimize the amount of skin exposed and how high your blood pressure spikes.
8. You Eat A Lot Of Potatoes
Bad news for spud lovers: eating four or more servings of potatoes—boiled, baked, mashed, or fried—per week is associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure, especially for women, according to a study published in The BMJ. That’s because potatoes have a high glycemic index, meaning they can trigger a sharp rise in blood sugar levels and high blood sugar is inextricably linked to high blood pressure, according to researchers.
Don’t worry, you don’t have to cut potatoes altogether. After all, they are still a great source of fiber and vitamins. But Weinberg recommends eating them in moderation, and in their whole form whenever possible. While the study does link even boiled or mashed potatoes with high blood sugar, they are indisputably heart-healthier than French fries, Weinberg says.