A grand total of 67 million Americans suffer from high blood pressure. The condition affects women as often as men, but not at all ages — before age 45, men are more likely to suffer from high blood pressure, while women take the lead after age 65. A new study reveals that the mechanisms that lead to hypertension are, in fact, significantly different in women however. What does that mean for treatment?
High blood pressure puts patients at risk of all kinds of complications, including stroke and heart disease, so it is important to take the condition seriously. The problem is that it doesn't typically present with obvious symptoms, making it easy for hypertension to go undiagnosed for long periods of time.
Hypertensive Women Have More Vascular Disease
Dr Carlos Ferrario, lead author of the study and professor of surgery at Wake Forest Baptist, explained that the medical community believed "that high blood pressure was the same for both sexes". The research Dr Ferrario and his colleagues conducted is the first to look into sex "as an element in the selection of antihypertensive agents or base the choice of a specific drug on the various factors accounting for the elevation in blood pressure", he noted.
The team monitored 100 men and women with untreated hypertension to see if they could find any differences between sexes. All participants were tested extensively, and none had major diseases besides high blood pressure. They tested the patients' hemodynamic characteristics — forces responsible for blood circulation — and hormonal profiles of the study subjects.
What's more, the cardiovascular systems of the women the team looked at had physiological differences. The levels and types of hormones involved in regulating blood pressure were revealed to be different in the female subjects. This can, according to Dr Ferrario, contribute to the rates and severity of cardiovascular disease seen in women with high blood pressure.
What Does This Mean For High Blood Pressure Treatment In Women?
Men might be more likely than women to suffer from high blood pressure before age 45, but this new study suggests that we need a new way of dealing with hypertension in female patients. The condition should, Dr Ferrario and his team say, be treated both earlier and more aggressively in women. New treatment guidelines could eliminate the elevated levels of vascular disease currently seen in women with hypertension.
Dr Ferrario says: "Our study findings suggest a need to better understand the female sex-specific underpinnings of the hypertensive processes to tailor optimal treatments for this vulnerable population."
As always, we can say that there is a definite need for further research. What practical steps can you take in the meantime, though? We already noted that high blood pressure is usually asymptomatic. Coupled with the new findings, this should lead all women to the conclusion that they need to have their blood pressure measured from time to time. Your family doctor can do this during routine health checks, and you can also have your blood pressure measured at most pharmacies.
At-home blood pressure meters vary in quality and are not always accurate — if you want to read your blood pressure yourself, make sure to invest in a quality, reputable device to make sure you do not get false results.
A healthy, balanced diet that doesn't include excessive salt intake helps keep your blood pressure within normal levels. It also makes it easier to maintain a healthy weight, which is good for your blood pressure too. Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption are the enemies of your blood pressure, and everyone should attempt to keep stress to a minimum while engaging in regular physical exercise.