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Women & High Blood Pressure

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Updated March 22, 2007

As a Woman, What Should I Know?:

Like men, women should be familiar with the basics of high blood pressure, the risks, and prevention strategies. You should also be aware that clinical models which say that women are at less risk than men are outdated. As a woman, there are unique topics such as pregnancy and menopause which can play an important role in your blood pressure health.

Traditional Ideas:

Clinical thinking used to say that women were less likely to develop high blood pressure than men. Numerous large, well run studies tracked high blood pressure in women over a long period of time, and correlated it to various things.

These studies showed that

  • Women developed high blood pressure less frequently than men
  • Women developed high blood pressure later in life than men
  • Various factors, such as estrogen, protect women from developing things like high blood pressure and heart attack

New Ideas:

Women under a certain age do tend to develop high blood pressure less frequently than men, due to the protective effects of estrogen. As women age, this protective effect decreases, and by the retirement years, women and men share about the same level of risk.

Because of the complicated way that statistics can work, it is still sometimes said that women are at less risk than men. While technically correct, this statment is flawed, and should not give anyone false peace of mind.

If you Use Birth Control Pills:

There is research linking birth control pills to high blood pressure. Smoking cigarettes greatly amplifies this link. If you are thinking of starting birth control pills

  • Quit Smoking - your doctor can help
  • Have your blood pressure checked before starting the pill
  • Have your blood pressure checked every six months
If you are overweight, have a family history of high blood presure, or have had a complicated pregnancy in the past, your doctor may want to check your blood pressure more often.

If You Are Pregnant:

Pregnancy can cause a type of high blood pressure called gestational hypertension. This condition can develop quickly, so it is common for your doctor to watch your blood pressure closely during pregnancy. If this condition occurs, it must be treated to avoid causing problems for both the mother and the baby. Pregnancy can also make existing high blood pressure worse. If you are planning on becoming pregnant

  • Have your blood pressure checked
  • Carefully follow any instructions from your doctor

If You Are Post-Menopausal:

During menopause, levels of estrogen decrease greatly. Besides being the cause of common side effects of menopause such as hot flashes, declining estrogen levels also mean elevating high blood pressure risk. It is important to montior your blood pressure during and after menopause, even if it has been normal for your whole life, because your risk increases substantially during this time.

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