How Your Weight Affects Your Blood Pressure

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Obesity is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, partly because it leads to other cardiovascular risk factors, such as high blood pressure and obstructive sleep apnea.

The Link Between Weight and Blood Pressure

Multiple large-scale epidemiological studies have established a link between obesity and high blood pressure. As it turns out, even a very small amount of weight gain can increase blood pressure.

In one study, conducted in healthy individuals aged 18 to 48, those who gained a small amount of weight, from approximately five to 11 pounds, experienced an average rise in systolic blood pressure (the top blood pressure number) from 114 mm Hg to 118 mm Hg. Those who gained more weight around the abdomen had the greatest increase in blood pressure.

Several biological reasons for this link between weight gain and blood pressure have been proposed, including dietary factors, metabolic and neuroendocrine imbalances, sodium retention, and blood vessel dysfunction, among others. In addition, adipose (fat) tissue around body organs, known as visceral adiposity or visceral adipose tissue, becomes resistant to insulin and leptin, which, along with altered secretion of adiposity-related hormones, exacerbates cardiovascular disease.

Lose Weight, Lower Blood Pressure

Just as small weight gains can raise blood pressure, so can losing even a small amount of weight result in improved blood pressure.

One study that looked at patients with obesity who were in the age range of 20 to 55 years found that those who reduced their calorie intake by 800 calories per day (under carefully guided and supervised study parameters) not only lost weight but also lowered their blood pressures. This study also showed that those who lost weight improved obstructive sleep apnea, which is interrelated with both obesity and high blood pressure.

Different dietary habits can lead not only to weight loss, but to less risk of high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease as well. For example, research has found that some people, including strict vegetarians, those whose diet is plant-based and consists mainly of vegetables and vegetable products, and those whose salt (sodium) intake is low, have virtually no increase in blood pressure as they age.

The more dramatic the weight loss in patients with obesity, the more dramatic the improvement in blood pressure tends to be. Many who lose weight are able to reduce the doses of their blood pressure medications, and I have even had patients who lost enough weight that their blood pressure normalized such that they were able to stop taking the blood pressure medications. Regulation of blood pressure medications must be done under the supervision of a qualified health care professional, of course—never stop taking your blood pressure medication without the advice of your physician or other health care professional.


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Singh P, Sert-Kuniyoshi FH, Romero-Corral A, et al. Small weight gain can raise blood pressure in healthy adults. American Heart Association meeting report abstract 29. Accessed online at on September 12, 2014.

Fernandes JF, Araujo LS, de Lourdes M, et al. Restricting calories may improve sleep apnea, blood pressure in obese people. American Heart Association meeting report abstract 461. Accessed online at on September 12, 2014.

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