Before menopause, women have a blood pressure advantage.
Women’s blood pressure starts out lower than men’s, but the advantage doesn’t last. The August issue of Mayo Clinic Women’s HealthSource offers insights on blood pressure changes in women and steps to avoid high blood pressure.
Women’s systolic pressure - the top number in the blood pressure reading and the one that’s more closely associated with heart disease risk and stroke in people over age 50 - increases by about 5 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) with menopause. A study done between 2001 and 2003 among people over age 60 showed that women had a higher systolic blood pressure than did men in every state in America. According to the report, women tended to think they didn’t have high blood pressure when, in fact, they did.
For healthy adults, blood pressure less than 120/80 mm Hg is desirable. Untreated high blood pressure can cause the heart to work too hard. As a result, the walls of arteries can harden and impede blood flow. Restricted blood flow can lead to stroke, heart attack, heart failure, kidney failure and dementia.
When blood pressure rises above normal, it’s essential to work with a doctor on a treatment plan to control the condition. The plan might include medications as well as these basic steps. Even one can make a significant difference in blood pressure.
1. Get regular physical exercise. Exercise helps lower blood pressure because it makes the heart stronger. With greater strength, the heart can pump more blood with less effort. Being physically active for 30 to 60 minutes most days of the week can lower blood pressure by 4 to 9 mm Hg.
2. Follow a healthy eating plan. A healthy diet consists mostly of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat or fat-free dairy products. Limit consumption of red meat, processed foods and sweets. Several studies have shown that those who follow the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan, a healthy diet similar to what’s described here, may reduce blood pressure by up to 14 mm Hg.
3. Reduce dietary sodium. Salt (sodium) increases blood pressure in most people with high blood pressure and in about 25 percent of people with normal blood pressure. The recommended daily sodium intake is 1,500 to 2,400 milligrams; lower is even better.
4. Limit alcohol intake. In small amounts, alcohol can help prevent heart attacks and coronary artery disease. But that protective effect is lost when women regularly drink more than one drink a day. Above that amount, alcohol can raise blood pressure by several points and can interfere with blood pressure medications.
5. Achieve a healthy weight. Being thin isn’t essential. But for those who are overweight, losing as little as 5 percent to 10 percent of body weight can lower blood pressure by several points. With less body mass to nourish, the heart doesn’t have to pump as hard and the pressure on the arteries decreases.
Mayo Clinic Women’s HealthSource is published monthly to help women enjoy healthier, more productive lives. Revenue from subscriptions is used to support medical research at Mayo Clinic.
Source: Mayo Clinic