Secondary Hypertension

What is Secondary Hypertension?

Secondary hypertension is also known as secondary high blood pressure. When a person’s high blood pressure is secondary rather than primary, it means that it occurs due to another medical condition or disease. Because the other medical condition is the primary health concern, the hypertension is secondary.

Generally speaking, secondary hypertension occurs as the result of a medical condition affects the kidneys, heart, endocrine system, or arteries. Secondary hypertension can occur as a complication of diabetes or could occur as a pregnancy complication. Sleep apnea could also result in secondary hypertension. Other conditions that could commonly result in secondary hypertension include thyroid problems, aortic issues, and even taking certain medications or supplements. People that are obese or who chronically abuse alcohol could also suffer from secondary hypertension.

What are the Symptoms of Secondary Hypertension?

High blood pressure in general is defined as having a systolic blood pressure that reads at 140 milligrams of mercury or higher and a diastolic blood pressure that reads at 90 milligrams of mercury or higher (140/90 and above).

However, there is a bit more to secondary hypertension than primary hypertension. Secondary hypertension may occur all of a sudden in adulthood with no prior history or symptoms of high blood pressure. The person who suffers from this condition may also have no family history of high blood pressure. High blood pressure that does not reduce when treated with blood pressure medications may also be a sign of secondary hypertension.

Secondary Hypertension Causes

Unlike primary hypertension (commonly called high blood pressure), which has no specific cause, secondary hypertension is caused by a medical condition. These conditions include:

  • Obesity — can contribute to three primary factors that elevate blood pressure: increased blood circulation that puts pressure on arterial walls; increased heart rate that reduces the ability of blood vessels to move blood; and fatty deposits, which release chemicals that increase blood pressure.
  • Pregnancy — can exacerbate existing hypertension or initiate the development of high blood pressure (preeclampsia).
  • Medications — prescribed medication (antidepressants, birth control pills, and pain relievers), over-the-counter medication (decongestants), herbal supplements (ephedra and ginseng), and illegal drugs (methamphetamines and cocaine).
  • Renovascular Hypertension — the arteries leading to the kidneys become narrow (stenosis) because of fatty deposits or the muscle and tissue of the arterial walls harden, causing fibromuscular dysplasia.
  • Diabetic Nephropathy — complications of diabetes can lead to damaging the kidneys and causing high blood pressure.
  • Polycystic Kidney Disease (inherited) — elevated blood pressure because of impaired kidney function caused by cysts.
  • Glomerular Disease — an increase in blood pressure when the glomeruli, which act as filters in the kidneys, become swollen and therefore unable to filter waste products and sodium.
  • Cushing Syndrome — the adrenal glands over-produce cortisol because of the use of corticosteroid medication, a pituitary tumor, or other condition.
  • Hypothyroidism and Hyperthyroidism — the thyroid gland under-produces thyroid hormones (hypothyroidism) or over-produces thyroid hormones (hyperthyroidism), both of which can elevate blood pressure.
  • Hyperparathyroidism — blood pressure rises because of elevated calcium levels caused when the thyroid gland produces too much parathyroid hormone.
  • Sleep Apnea — blood vessel walls become damaged because they don’t receive enough oxygen; overactive nervous system releases chemicals that increase blood pressure.

How is Secondary Hypertension Treated?

The treatment for secondary hypertension depends on the medical condition that is causing it. It is important to treat that condition in order to reduce high blood pressure. Lifestyle changes like dietary changes and increased exercise may also help. Certain types of prescription diuretics or beta-blockers may be useful in lowering the blood pressure as well. Arterial blockages or tumors that might cause secondary hypertension may need to be dealt with surgically. Diabetes can be controlled through diet, insulin, and other treatments to help reduce the complications that it can cause, including this condition. A two-pronged approach of dealing directly with the high blood pressure and its underlying causes is often the approach that is most effective in dealing with secondary hypertension.

Secondary Hypertension Prevention

The best strategy for preventing secondary hypertension includes making changes or modifications that contribute to a healthy lifestyle. These include:

  • Eating healthy food — the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet emphasizes potassium-rich fruits and vegetables, such as bananas, spinach, and potatoes.
  • Decreasing salt intake — including supplemental salting of food as well as observing processed-food labels for the amount of salt they contain.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Exercising
  • Limiting alcohol intake
  • Not smoking
  • Managing stress
Last Reviewed:
October 10, 2016
Last Updated:
November 06, 2017