In a new study from the Smidt Heart Institute, researchers found that contrary to common belief, the risk of developing high blood pressure has more to do with genetics in women than in men.
The effect of genes on hypertension risk, when compared to that of lifestyle factors, such as diet, exercise and stress management, appears to be more important in women versus men.
This means that a woman with low genetic risk is less likely to develop hypertension than a man with low genetic risk.
Conversely, a woman with high genetic risk is more likely to develop hypertension than a man with high genetic risk.
In the study, the team used blood pressure and genotype data collected from more than 200,000 women and men who were followed for over five decades.
Results confirmed their hypothesis that sex-specific genetic risk traits are more profoundly linked to risk for hypertension in women than in men—particularly for the type of hypertension that starts early in life.
The findings have important clinical implications for patients and their physicians, particularly because, high blood pressure can often be overlooked by patients as something related to stress that might go away on its own.
Researchers say this key study helps to clarify how the genetic causes of hypertension are especially strong in women compared to men.
It highlights the need for both physicians and patients to pay even more attention to hypertension risks in women.
Prior to this study, researchers knew that certain factors, such as diet and exercise, could affect blood pressure, and that for people who become hypertensive earlier in life, the underlying drivers of higher blood pressure are more likely to be genetic.
However, this latest study is the first to ask if hypertension in women is more genetically determined than hypertension in men.
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is the leading risk factor for cardiovascular diseases, like heart attack, stroke and heart failure.
Only about a third of Americans with high blood pressure have their condition controlled to safe levels, making it the most common chronic disease in the Western world.
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The study is published in Hypertension. One author of the study is Susan Cheng, MD, MPH.
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