High blood pressure, also called hypertension, will affect one in every three Americans this year. The worst part is that most people who have high blood pressure will not even know that they have it – often until it is too late. Many people report feeling fine, yet are suffering the destructive effects of high blood pressure.
For women during menopause, the risks of developing high blood pressure increase due to advanced age and lifestyle choices. Prevention is the best medicine, and this brief overview provides information about what high blood pressure is and what can be done about it.
High blood pressure defined
The heart continually pumps blood through the arteries; the pressure refers to the intensity of the blood pushing up against the arteries’ walls. Contrary to popular belief, this pressure is not readily ‘felt’ by patients, making high blood pressure virtually undetectable for most people. There is no real strong sensation of blood pressure within the arteries, which is why annual physical check ups are very important.
What do the numbers 120 over 80 really mean?
Blood pressure is measured in systolic and diastolic numbers. The systolic or top number measures blood pressure when the heart is pumping the blood out – the heart beat. The diastolic or bottom number measures blood pressure in between heart beats when the heart is at rest.
Ideally, a reading of 120 (top number) over 80 (bottom number) is considered normal. When these numbers go up, the force of the blood pumping in the heart also increases and puts additional strain on the heart to do its job. The harder the heart has to work, the greater the toll it takes on the body.
Blood pressure numbers can increase in moments of stress or fear. But when blood pressure numbers remain in the higher ranges, high blood pressure is the result. If left untreated, high blood pressure can lead to even more serious conditions such as heart attack/heart failure, stroke, and kidney failure. This is why it is so important to understand what high blood pressure and if it is already present.
High blood pressure and menopause
For women in menopause or peri-menopause, the risks for high blood pressure may increase when taking birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy.
Women may experience a slight increase in their blood pressure readings while on the pill. The risks increase for women over 35 or who have a history of high blood pressure in their families. Switching to a lower dose birth control pill, or coming off the pill altogether during menopause may help lower the blood pressure numbers.
Another concern is the impact that hormone replacement therapy has on high blood pressure. In some women, hormone replacement therapy can decrease other menopausal symptoms but may increase blood pressure. Women who have high blood pressure should consult with their physicians to explore possible alternatives to help cope with menopause. Taking blood pressure readings more than once a year are usually recommended to determine the effects of hormone replacement therapy on the heart’s blood pressure.
High blood pressure risks
Women (and men) over 45 are at greater risk for developing high blood pressure. Traditionally, high blood pressure was thought of as a man’s problem but more women are now seeking treatment. The odds increase further for people who are overweight or obese and inactive. Eating a diet high in sodium and low in potassium, smoking, and drinking too much alcohol are also common risk factors for high blood pressure.
Prevention of high blood pressure
The earlier unhealthy lifestyle choices are replaced with healthy choices, the better the chances of lowering the risk of high blood pressure. Getting adequate physical exercise – even just 20 minutes three times a week – will help to lower blood pressure during activity and rest periods. Decreasing salt intake, limiting alcohol to no more than one or two drinks per day, quitting smoking, and increasing potassium intake are all helpful in controlling and lowering blood pressure closer to those magic numbers 120 over 80.
High blood pressure does not have to be a part of menopause. While the risks are greater, there are many ways to lower blood pressure and prevent this largely unknown condition from causing further damage before it is too late. Becoming heart smart is the way to ensure greater health during menopause and for many years after.
Menopause, Your Doctor, and You