If you've been diagnosed with hypertension, or high blood pressure, it actually may be caused by an underlying medical condition. In this case, it's known as secondary hypertension.

But how do you know if you have it, and what can you do about it? Is it treated differently than primary hypertension, which has no obvious cause and tends to come on gradually with age?

Symptoms of Secondary Hypertension

Secondary hypertension occurs in only about five percent of high blood pressure cases, but if any of the following apply to you, your high blood pressure may indeed be caused by another medical condition:

  1. Your blood pressure is 160/100 or higher.
  2. Your blood pressure doesn't respond, or suddenly stops responding, to the usual medications.
  3. You're younger than 30 or older than 55 and are suddenly diagnosed.
  4. Your blood pressure is quite variable.
  5. Your blood pressure is different in your right and left arms.
  6. Your electrolyte (minerals like calcium, potassium, and sodium) levels are abnormal.
  7. You have no family history of primary hypertension.
  8. You're not obese.

Risks Associated With Secondary Hypertension

Is secondary hypertension any more dangerous than primary hypertension? It can be. "Often patients with secondary hypertension have very high blood pressure, so for this reason it is often more dangerous," explains Nicholas DuBois, MD, MS, a cardiologist at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York. "In addition, the underlying cause of the secondary hypertension can sometimes damage other organs." Kidney problems, for example, are a common cause of secondary hypertension, and "problems of blood flow to the kidneys affect blood pressure but can also lead to kidney damage, complicating the situation." Other causes of secondary hypertension include problems with the heart, arteries, and endocrine system, as well as a host of other rarer conditions.

Treating Secondary Hypertension

Hypertension medications are commonly prescribed for secondary hypertension, often at higher doses than with primary hypertension. Additionally, treating secondary hypertension often depends on its cause: If the underlying reason is clear, fixing that problem—such as operating on a blocked renal (in or around the kidney) artery or removing a tumor—may clear up the hypertension. And although it may be difficult, it's important to try to lower your blood pressure as much as possible by:

  1. Eating a nutritious diet.
  2. Minimizing your salt intake.
  3. Reaching and staying at a healthy weight.
  4. Exercising.
  5. Limiting alcohol and tobacco.
  6. Managing stress.

Nicholas DuBois, MD, MS, reviewed this article.




Nicholas DuBois, MD. Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. 

"Secondary Hypertension." Mayo Clinic. Web. Page updated 15 March 2013. Page accessed 11 July 11 2013.