Many people know that a sedentary lifestyle and a diet high in fat, salt, and sugar can create dangerous blood pressure rates, but experts warn that other habits also have an important, if rarely recognized, impact.
Recently, the American Heart Association released a list of hidden habits that can affect a person’s blood pressure.
Fighting high blood pressure, or hypertension, is key for those 75 million Americans, or one in three adults, who have high blood pressure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
1. OTC Drugs
People who use over-the-counter medications to treat minor aches and pains risk spikes in their blood pressure.
OTC medications, including anti-inflammatory drugs such as naproxen (Aleve) and ibuprofen (Advil), can increase blood pressure. Drugs such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) are less likely to cause such increases.
Many OTC decongestant medications are also known to raise blood pressure. So too are many prescription medications used to treat mental health, provide oral birth control, or to act as immunosuppressants, cancer medication, and steroids.
Of course, the cost of hypertension may be small compared to the ailment such medications treat. Medical experts recommend that people don’t stop taking these medications without consulting their physician.
2. Daily Coffee or Cocktail
Both alcohol and caffeine can also contribute to rising blood pressure.
Research suggests limiting caffeine to less than 300 milligrams (mg), or about two to three cups of coffee per day, to avoid high blood pressure from reaching critical levels. Many nutritionists will recommend replacing it all together.
Alcohol should be also limited to “no more than one drink per day for women and no more than two drinks per day for men,” Dr. Elizabeth A. Jackson, professor of medicine in the Department of Cardiovascular Disease at the University of Alabama, told Healthline.
“Green tea extract and other caffeine-related products, such as matcha, all increase the adrenalin surge in a patient,” said Dr. Satjit Bhusri, attending cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
Bhusri went on to say that these products are “meant to make one more alert, but in doing so, [they elevate] blood pressures into dangerous categories.”
3. Food Ingredients and Supplements
Supplements and certain food combinations can also lead to elevated blood pressure.
Not all supplements that are labeled “natural” are considered to be safe. Herbal supplements and home remedies that use ingredients such as licorice can lead to hypertension, for example.
Also, foods with strong cheeses, cured meats, and even soy products can contain high levels of tyramine. This substance can interact with antidepressants such as monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), resulting in hypertensive episodes.
4. Improper Blood Pressure Readings
Some people experience “white coat hypertension,” which can occur when medical settings bring on anxiety, leading to high blood pressure readings.
These measurements can incorrectly give the picture of hypertension in the doctor’s office, and that means people may end up on unnecessary blood pressure medications.
To offset this, people can take their blood pressure readings at home, and then compare those readings to measurements at their doctor’s office.
“If the blood pressure numbers are higher in a doctor’s office, taking blood pressure at home provides [patients] and their healthcare provider with an accurate picture of what the blood pressure is in a natural environment,” said Jackson.
To get as accurate a measurement as possible at home, take your blood pressure using a portable device that is well-calibrated and has good batteries.
Prepare for blood pressure readings by emptying your bladder, avoiding cigarettes or caffeine for 30 minutes before the measurement, and sitting quietly for a few minutes before taking a reading.
How to Know You’re in Trouble
As reported by the CDC, in 2014 more than 410,000 American deaths, almost 1,100 deaths a day, involved high blood pressure as a primary or contributing cause.
Under current guidelines, normal blood pressure is having a systolic (upper) number of less than 120 and a diastolic (lower) number of less than 80.
Stage I hypertension occurs when the systolic number is between 130 to 139 and the diastolic is between 80 to 89. Stage II hypertension is a systolic greater than 140 and a diastolic greater than 90.
Bhusri said that if you have a systolic blood pressure greater than 180 and a diastolic greater than 120 and you have “symptoms of chest pain, dizziness, or shortness of breath—this is a hypertensive emergency.”
For anyone in this situation, his advice is to “go to the nearest emergency room, as their risk of stroke or heart attack is very high.”
The Risk of High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is a contributing factor to multiple dangerous health conditions.
According to the CDC, seven out of 10 Americans who have a heart attack have high blood pressure. Almost eight in every 10 Americans who have had a stroke for the first time also have high blood pressure. And chronic heart failure is associated with high blood pressure in about 7 in every 10 Americans.
“Hypertension is known as the silent killer. If [a patient] notices high blood pressure, they should see their primary care doctor who then can, based on their evaluation, send them to a hypertension specialist” said Bhusri.
“Their risk of heart attack and stroke can be lowered if high blood pressure is caught and managed early.”
In addition to the above recommendations, the American Heart Association has some online resources for people to check out: suggestions for simple things you can do to reduce your blood pressure, information on blood pressure medication, and tips for reducing your sodium and salt intake.
Rajiv Bahl M.D., is an attending emergency medicine physician based in Orlando and New Smyrna Beach, Florida. This article was first published on Healthline.com