Overview of High Blood Pressure in Women

Nearly half of adult Americans have high blood pressure (hypertension), but one in five of them don't know they have it. These statistics are concerning when you consider that high blood pressure is easy to diagnose and treat, and particularly alarming because complications of hypertension are among the most preventable causes of death in the United States.

Nurse putting blood pressure cuff on patient
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Many people falsely assume that men are the most at risk for cardiovascular diseases, but in 2017, 22% of women died of heart disease, compared with 24% of men. Untreated high blood pressure can cause kidney damage and raises the risk of heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases.

Coronary heart disease claimed almost 300,0000 women's lives (about 1 in every five female deaths). Early detection and treatment of high blood pressure could prevent many of these deaths.

Who's at Risk

High blood pressure can happen to anyone at any age. It is often difficult to pinpoint a cause since it can develop for a number of reasons. Females have many of the same causes of hypertension as males, but there are also a few different causes.

Several factors, including race and geographic location, have been shown to contribute to the development of hypertension:

  • Heredity can increase your risk of hypertension.
  • Lifestyle factors that contribute to high blood pressure include smoking, lack of physical activity, overweight, high sodium intake, high cholesterol, and excessive alcohol intake.
  • People who have diabetes are at a higher risk for high blood pressure and other cardiovascular diseases.
  • Certain states in the Southeast are known as the "Stroke Belt States" because of the high rate of strokes experienced by males and females of all races.
  • Black women who live in the Southeast United States are more likely to have high blood pressure than those who live elsewhere.
  • Overall, Black women are more likely to develop high blood pressure at an earlier age and more severely than White women.

Women who have high blood pressure who smoke and use oral contraceptives are at an increased risk of blood clots, including those that cause a stroke. You should have your blood pressure closely monitored if you have these risk factors, regardless of your age.

After menopause, a woman's risk of high blood pressure and other cardiovascular diseases increases greatly; the risk of high blood pressure also increases for women after hysterectomy.

Symptoms

Most people have no symptoms of high blood pressure so you may be completely unaware that you have the condition—until something happens that requires medical attention. Rare symptoms of hypertension can include headaches, dizziness, or blurred vision, And females who experience a lack of sexual desire should have a blood pressure check since some research suggests that high blood pressure can cause low libido in some women.

Regular blood pressure checks should be a part of everyone's routine health screening. Self-serve blood pressure monitoring equipment is available at many pharmacies, and most hospitals and clinics will perform free blood pressure screening upon request.

Blood pressure measures two numbers:

  • The top number is the systolic pressure—this measures the pressure of blood in the vessels as the heart contracts (beats).
  • The lower number is the diastolic pressure—the pressure of the blood between heartbeats.

Blood pressure is considered high when the systolic pressure is consistently above 120 or when diastolic pressure is above 80.

Treatments

The good news about high blood pressure is that it is usually easily controllable. If your blood pressure is high, your healthcare provider will determine whether you need medication to lower it. They may suggest that you make changes to your lifestyle before or during treatment with medication.

Lifestyle changes alone often effectively reduce blood pressure for many people and may include:

  • Losing weight, if necessary
  • Following a heart-healthy diet
  • Engaging in regular physical activity—30 minutes of walking or other aerobic activity a day
  • Restricting the amount of sodium in your diet
  • Limiting alcoholic beverages
  • Quitting smoking

Several types of medications are available to treat high blood pressure. Medical treatment is often used in conjunction with lifestyle therapies. Some of the most commonly used medications to treat high blood pressure include:

These drugs may be used alone or in combination, depending on what your practitioner determines is best for your situation. It's important that you take the medication exactly as prescribed and don't stop without medical supervision. Suddenly stopping blood pressure medication can cause your blood pressure to rise rapidly. If you have side effects, discuss them with your healthcare provider so you can have any adjustments that you need while still getting your blood pressure under good control.

Using lifestyle modifications and/or medication that lowers your blood pressure will also reduce your risk of complications, such as kidney disease and cardiovascular disease. Discuss any questions you have with your healthcare provider so you will understand your treatment plan and its potential benefit to your life and health.

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12 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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