So, You Have a Family History of Hypertension… Now What?!
“I must have bad genes.”
“Whatever I do, my blood pressure is bound to keep rising.”
All of these are rather common and natural reactions after someone discovers they have a family history of hypertension. But are they rational, realistic, or responsible ways to respond?
Perhaps not. While finding out you’re at greater risk of certain conditions based on your genetics does sound alarm bells, the ball is very much still in your court. No matter if you have a mother, father, or sibling with hypertension, you still have control over both your present and future health.
That being said, here’s what we’ll explore in today’s article in case it’s of interest:
- The level of hereditary risk for developing high blood pressure
- How family history causes hypertension – biologically and socially
- Lifestyle recommendations to look after your blood pressure
I Have a Family History of Hypertension. Am I at Risk Too?
The details matter when answering this question.
Case in point – does having an 82-year-old grandmother newly diagnosed with hypertension put you at greater risk of developing it too?
Most likely, no. However, does having a 57-year-old father who’s been dealing with high blood pressure for a number of years increase your risk?
Yes, this will. Studies define someone as a “hypertensive offspring” when they have a blood relative diagnosed with high blood pressure for a minimum of one year before the age of 60.
In such an event, your risk of hypertension is thought to double.
A family history of high blood pressure has also been associated with other health morbidities, such as obesity.
The concept of more is worse applies here too. When three or more of your blood relatives have high blood pressure, this is considered a strong family history and further increases your chances of developing hypertension.
Keep in mind, all of these scenarios are by no means a guarantee that you’ll suffer cardiovascular ill health, or that you’ll have a stroke or heart attack later in life. Family history is a factor worth paying attention to, sure. But it’s from the be-all and end-all.
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Family History As a Hypertension Risk – The Biological and Social Mechanisms
Many genetic disorders and conditions are hereditary, as genes get passed down from one generation to the next.
For example, genetic mutations can occur as a result of UV or radiation exposure, affecting the genes’ ability to build important proteins.
What about the specific connection between genes and high blood pressure, though?
Okay, it’s science time! The first human gene linked to hypertension was angiotensinogen (AGT). This is a precursor for the protein hormone, angiotensin, which is known to modulate blood pressure by giving the body signals when to:
- Narrow the blood vessels
- Activate water intake
- Activate sodium (salt) intake
And there have been further advancements in understanding since then. A fascinating study part-funded by the British Heart Foundation discovered not one, not ten, but 179 kidney genes associated with high blood pressure. The researchers were able to examine large datasets of human DNA and RNA from kidney tissue samples. Doing so led to two huge breakthroughs:
- Approximately 80% of the 179 genes had not been connected to high blood pressure before this study.
- Medications already available were found to be able to target at least a portion of these genes.
Another biological mechanism to be aware of is monogenic hypertension. This is where a parent passes down a single genetic variant to their child. The mutation variant can lead to issues in blood pressure regulation and hypertensive disorders, including:
- Congenital adrenal hyperplasia
- Gellar syndrome
- Liddle syndrome
The individual disorders resulting in monogenic hypertension aren’t well-known. Nevertheless, as a collective, they’re thought to account for around 30% of hypertension cases.
Social and Environmental Factors
The impact family heritage and history have on health goes beyond genetics.
Take smoking, for instance. If you’ve shared a home with a family member who smokes, you may fall into the category of being a secondhand smoker (or “passive smoker”). This is where you’re exposed to the harmful contents of cigarettes without smoking yourself.
In a study of over 106,000 people who reported they never smoked, their chances of developing hypertension significantly increased if they had secondhand smoke exposure either at home or at work.
Lifestyle factors such as diet, exercise, and sleep all play a big role too.
Consider how people often show similar traits or habits as their parents or siblings. Chances are that if a child or young adult is raised in an environment where the familial norm is to:
- eat a diet high in salt or refined sugar
- not exercise regularly
- miss out on sleep
Then they’re more likely to observe and exhibit these behaviours themselves. And the scientific evidence is clear. An unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, and insufficient sleep all contribute to an increased risk of hypertension.
What to Do When Hypertension Runs in The Family
A growing sense of frustration or despair can build when you discover a strong family history of hypertension – or any unwanted condition for that matter.
It’s one thing to acknowledge the trend and look for ways to protect yourself. That’s smart! However, it’s tempting to over-analyse and become preoccupied or obsessed. To the point that the constant worrying may do more harm than the underlying genetic risk.
So, what’s the sensible middle ground?
The ideal diet for everyone doesn’t exist. Some days you’ll be too busy or tired to exercise. Some nights you won’t sleep so well. Instead of aiming for impossible perfection, try to lead a healthy lifestyle 80% of the time.
Maybe that means from Monday to Friday, you aim to:
- Limit foods high in sodium or saturated fats, e.g. cheese and fatty meat
- Consume more fibre through foods such as beans, lentils, and oats
- Go for a 30-minute brisk walk in the morning
- Get in bed early enough to sleep 7-8 hours
Whereas, on the weekends, you allow yourself to be more flexible.
For most people, a treat meal every now and then is fine. As is a lazy day watching Netflix. As is a late night meeting friends. Do these things too often and, yes, they are likely to have a negative impact on your cardiovascular health.
Get The Data You Need
Automatic. Easy. Reliable. Considering how technology has progressed, it’s disappointing that the common way to measure blood pressure is so archaic.
While the cuff was a brilliant invention for its time, many find it awkward or uncomfortable to use. Never mind the fact individual readings often aren’t a true reflection of blood pressure levels throughout the day and night, so you don’t get the full data you need.
Is there a modern alternative that’s more robust and convenient?
You bet! Aktiia offers 24/7 blood pressure monitoring that’s easier than ever before. If you’re concerned about a family history of hypertension and want to make sure you keep your blood pressure at a safe level, Aktiia is the tool for you.
Here’s how Aktiia compares to the home blood pressure cuff:
As you can see, the hands-off and round-the-clock nature of Aktiia’s blood pressure measurements gives it the edge.
To find out more and read customer reviews, view Aktiia here.
Disclaimer: If you are concerned about your blood pressure, it is best to speak to your doctor. They can advise on the best way to manage your blood pressure.
Ambulatory Blood Pressure and Family History of Hypertension in Healthy Men and Women, May 2006 – https://academic.oup.com/ajh-article-198268
The influence of family history of Hypertension on disease prevalence and associated metabolic risk factors among Sri Lankan adults, June 2015 – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/articles-PMC4475303
Know Your Risk for High Blood Pressure, March 2023 – https://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/risk-factors
Genes responsible for high blood pressure discovered in the human kidney, May 2021 – https://www.bhf.org.uk/genes-responsible-for-high-blood-pressure-discovered-in-the-human-kidney
Overview of Monogenic Forms of Hypertension Combined With Hypokalemia, January 2021 – https://www.frontiersin.org/articles-fped-2020-543309
Monogenic hypertension, September 2019 – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7233634
Association between Secondhand Smoke Exposure and Hypertension in 106,268 Korean Self-Reported Never-Smokers Verified by Cotinine, August 2019 – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6723357
Dietary fibre in hypertension and cardiovascular disease management: systematic review and meta-analyses, April 2022 – https://bmcmedicine.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12916-022-02328-x