High Blood Pressure and Women's Health
|By Dr. Steve Vasilev, MD on Wednesday, June 5, 2013|
|Men and women have certain unique risk factors for high blood pressure.
Learn what you can do to prevent or manage hypertension.||
One in three American adults has high blood pressure, and around half of all adults with a diagnosis of hypertension or high blood pressure are women! This runs a bit contrary to common thought, but is actually easily explained by a few different factors:
1. Age Variations
High blood pressure is thought to occur more often in men than women. Before age 50, women have a lower risk of hypertension than men. However, after age 55 the reverse is true. It’s possible this is due to the protection offered by higher estrogen production in premenopausal years. But the good news at any age is that it takes a higher average blood pressure in women to get symptoms of cardiovascular disease than men. The reasons for this are unclear.
There are some medications that put women at higher risk for hypertension with the most common being oral birth control. This increased risk is amplified if you’re also a smoker and overweight. It’s the main reason you would need your blood pressure checked before starting or renewing an oral birth control prescription. There are other common medications to be wary of, including non-steroidal anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen, cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine, and some drugs for migraines and weight loss. This is why it’s very important to discuss any new medications with your doctor or pharmacist. Some can cause more problems than they’re worth.
Women can develop temporary bouts of high blood pressure during pregnancy. Known as gestational hypertension, it’s a very serious condition and must be monitored closely. Gestational hypertension may require treatment and may also mean you have an increased risk of hypertension and stroke later in life. This is a very special form of hypertension and since any treatment can affect both you and your developing baby, it isn’t something to ignore.
Once a woman is postmenopausal, blood pressure starts to rise as well as hypertension related kidney disease. The mechanism for this is uncertain, but thought to be related to dropping estrogen levels. Although estrogen replacement therapy (ERT) is no longer the indiscriminate standard for everyone, you should discuss whether or not you would benefit from ERT with your doctor. Having said that, postmenopausal hypertension is a complex disease, likely related to many factors that aren’t yet clear and can be harder to treat.
For both genders, ethnic background affects risk for developing high blood pressure. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) indicates people of Mexican American and non-Hispanic Caucasian decent tended to have “normal” blood pressure levels compared collectively to people of non-Hispanic descent or African Americans. This isn’t something you can escape, but prevention still goes a long way no matter what your race.
Prevention is crucial because it can be very effective in avoiding major problems later in life. If early hypertension is ignored, it can quickly progress and easily lead to such life-threatening issues as stroke, heart attack, damage to the kidneys, major vision problems and more. At the very least, self-monitor your blood pressure using free resources (many pharmacies have “DIY” blood pressure stations). Ideally, get checked at least once per year for high blood pressure and regularly discuss your overall health with your physician.
As far as what you can do to prevent hypertension on your own, there is a lot! In fact, although it’s important to work with your doctor to maintain health, a doctor can’t hand you a prescription pill that will do all the work for you in preventing high blood pressure. It is largely up to you.
For starters, the big three are exercise, healthy diet and staying away from bad habits that can negatively impact your health. That may sound trite, but it’s true. Try to eat as much of a plant-based diet as possible, stay away from fast food, get moderate exercise at least three times per week, avoid cigarettes and develop ways to manage life’s stress. As far as managing stress, consider yoga or other mind-body relaxation techniques such as bio-feedback.
The above will get you 80 percent of the way to a healthy, hypertension-free life. If you want to add some additional benefits, consider these supplements and botanicals that can help support healthy blood pressure:
If you follow this general advice above, you’ll have a great chance of avoiding high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease and get back on a healthy track if you have hypertension. Working closely with your doctor can help you better manage your blood pressure, if you’ve already been diagnosed.
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