High blood pressure: Deadliest risk factor for women’s health

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Key Takeaways

On World Hypertension Day, the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) emphasized the importance of women being aware of their blood pressure levels to prevent heart disease and stroke.

“Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in women,” said ESC spokesperson Professor Angela Maas, who highlighted the fact that women’s risk for cardiovascular disease increases at lower blood pressure levels than men’s.

The Implications of Hypertension in Women

Around one in three women globally have hypertension. Despite its significant impact on women’s health, hypertension is often underestimated and inadequately treated in women compared to men.

High blood pressure leads to heart failure in which the heart muscle stiffens, and there are few effective treatments for this condition.

This underscores the urgency of treating high blood pressure in middle age, as waiting too long can lead to severe complications, including shortness of breath, fatigue, and fluid retention.

Recognizing Symptoms of High Blood Pressure

Contrary to common misconceptions, high blood pressure does cause symptoms.

Women with high blood pressure often report symptoms such as palpitations, chest pain, headaches, difficulty concentrating, shortness of breath, fluid retention, poor sleep, and hot flushes.

These symptoms may be mistaken for menopause, anxiety, or stress. Professor Maas noted, “When we treat hypertension, many symptoms erroneously attributed to menopause disappear.”

Hypertension: A Greater Risk for Women

Hypertension in midlife is more detrimental to women than men of the same age. It is a stronger risk factor for myocardial infarction, cognitive decline, and dementia.

The probability of stroke increases at a lower blood pressure level in women than in men, and high blood pressure raises the risk for heart failure in women threefold, compared to two-fold in men.

A Call for More Rigorous Blood Pressure Standards for Women

Currently, hypertension is defined as a systolic blood pressure of at least 140 mmHg and/or diastolic blood pressure of 90 mmHg or higher.

However, discussions are in progress about whether these values should be lower for women.

More research is needed before any changes can be made to the treatment guidelines, but Professor Maas anticipates that within five years, the threshold for normal blood pressure will be lower for women than men.

Identifying Risk Factors

Certain life events, such as migraines from teenage years, multiple miscarriages, hypertension during pregnancy, and preeclampsia, can predispose women to developing hypertension.

Physicians can use these clues to identify middle-aged women at higher risk of hypertension and stress the importance of serious blood pressure monitoring.

Know Your Blood Pressure

Women are encouraged to measure their blood pressure at home. Regular monitoring should start at age 40 for women with hypertension in their family or those who had hypertension during pregnancy.

Women with no issues during pregnancy and no family history should start yearly measurements at age 50 when they enter menopause.

A systolic blood pressure of 130 mmHg or higher should prompt further investigation for women under 80, while for those aged 80 and above, a value of 150 mmHg should trigger a visit to the doctor.

Maintaining a Healthy Lifestyle

“A healthy lifestyle is also important to prevent or treat high blood pressure,” said Professor Maas. This includes regular exercise, a nutritious diet, reducing salt intake, quitting smoking, losing excess weight, and limiting alcohol consumption.

If you care about blood pressure, please read studies about unhealthy habits that could increase high blood pressure risk, and people with severe high blood pressure should reduce coffee intake.

If you care about blood pressure, please read studies that black licorice could cause dangerous high blood pressure, and this common plant nutrient could help reduce high blood pressure.

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