Like heart disease, high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, has always been thought of as a man’s problem, but it is not, and it turns out that women are more likely to have high blood pressure because they have smaller arteries then men. After age 55, more women develop high blood pressure then men. Even a high-normal blood pressure reading of 130-139 or 80-85 diastolic, has been found to actually double a middle-age woman’s cardiac risk. High blood pressure effects one of four women, and kills significantly more women then men.
Considering these statistics, women need to be aware of the number of life circumstances and lifestyle choices that can be made maintaining optimal blood pressure and unique challenges, so let’s take a look.
Although contraceptives may elevate blood pressure slightly, usually women’s numbers will stay in the normal range, but they should be checked regularly, because high blood pressure is a potential side effect, particularly with women with a positive family history or a personal history of kidney disease, obesity, or hypertension during pregnancy.
Many women with high blood pressure deliver healthy babies (high blood pressure during pregnancy is called eclampsia); but pregnancy and increasing blood volume required to nurture a growing fetus can potentially raise blood pressure to extremely high levels. For this reason, expectant mothers should have blood pressure readings taken routinely. Hypertension can develop rapidly in the last few months of pregnancy. When this happens, the women may need treatment, even after delivery.
Normal age-related hormone declines often cause a woman’s arteries to become less elastic and more constrictive, thus contributing to high blood pressure. On their own, these changes are reason enough to pay extra attention to your lifestyle choices. Natural hormone balance would be indicated. Please note that conventional HRT involves the use of man-made synthetic pharmaceutical substitutes for the hormones the body is no longer producing enough of. The synthetic hormones may be problematic. In 2004, results from a Large Women’s Health Initiatives study (WHI) showed studies that synthetic hormones like Premarin and Provera could push blood pressure up steeply, and also increase heart disease as well as cause breast cancer. An alternative to HRT is to individually tailor natural biochemical hormones derived from natural plant sources. I believe they are a much better option for women, and this is what I use in my office.
Data from a five-year National Health and Nutritional Examination study of adults with hypertension revealed three risk factors for high blood pressure that were more significant for women than men. Low HDL cholesterol levels, elevated total cholesterol, and excess abdominal fat (waist girth more than 35-inches). This profile is largely consistent with Metabolic Syndrome, a widespread, asymptomatic condition that also ultimately leads to diabetes and heart disease. I have found that women with these characteristics typically do not respond well to medication for high blood pressure. They do better with lifestyle changes including exercise and weight loss, stress reduction, diet modification, and targeted nutritional supplementation to support normal blood pressure.
Another reason that women have a tougher time with high blood pressure is their tendency to have more diastolic dysfunction (DD) than men. Diastolic dysfunction is a condition with the left ventricle of the heart, the chamber that generates your systolic blood pressure becomes stiff. This is the #1 cause of heart failure in women. Diastolic dysfunction may have to do with a woman’s smaller blood vessels and declining energy levels in the heart. Fortunately, the latter can be combated by using Metabolic Cardiology: Q10, ribose, carnitine and magnesium. This can increase cellular energy production and importantly ensure your heart has the raw materials necessary to maximize it.
Daily doses of non-aspirin pain killers such as Extra-Strength Acetaminophen or Tylenol, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, NSAIDs like ibuprofen, Advil or Motrin increase the risk of high blood pressure. In a 2005 Harvard Study, women that took more than 5000-mg acetaminophen daily had a 93-99% greater risk to develop hypertension within three years, than women who took less. Likewise, women who took more than 400-mg per day of over-the-counter ibuprofen – that is, two ibuprofen – had a 60-78% greater risk for hypertension than the women who took none. If you take pain pills regularly, be sure to inform your doctor and find out about safer medication. I can give you recommendations when you come to the office. I use transdermal creams as well as non-narcotics; some of them you can buy in your health food store.