Healthy Blood Pressure Range for Women May Be Lower Than For Men
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, J.D., Founder
For as long as I can remember, healthcare professionals evaluated both women’s and men’s blood pressure measurements against a single, unisex range that was considered “normal.” While there may have been some variations based on age, along with shifts of the range itself based on then-available research, men and women were usually judged equally when it came to whether or not they had healthy blood pressure.
Recent research at the Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai in California, however, is now questioning whether this approach to measuring blood pressure – perhaps one of the most important indicators of cardiovascular health – may be creating avoidable risks for women by classifying their blood pressure as normal when it may, in fact, be unhealthy. The study’s findings suggest that rather than having parity with men, women may actually have a lower “normal” blood pressure than previously assumed.
Blood pressure readings are expressed by two numbers. The first number, called systolic, is your blood pressure when your heart beats, and the second, called diastolic, is the pressure when your heart is at rest. So, when you hear that your blood pressure is, for example, 135 over 75, the 135 is your systolic pressure and the 75 is the diastolic. For many years, a systolic reading of 120 was accepted as the upper limit for the normal range. Anything higher indicated high blood pressure or hypertension, which increases your risk for cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack, stroke and heart failure.
In the Smidt study, researchers looked at the blood pressure measurements of more than 25,000 people, 54 percent of whom were women. Their analysis suggested that while a systolic reading of 120 for men marked the beginning of the risk range for developing cardiovascular disease in general, this number was actually 110 (or even lower) for women. They also found that women have lower risk thresholds than men for each specific type of cardiovascular disease, including stroke and heart attack.
Whether this means that women should be treated for hypertension when their blood pressure reaches 110 systolic is yet to be borne out by the current evidence, but if your healthcare provider tells you that your blood pressure is over 110 systolic, you may want to inquire whether you need to effectively lower it to reduce your cardiovascular disease risk.
One possible reason for the difference may be related to research conducted at the same institution that suggests that women’s blood vessels age faster than those of men. This difference could also help explain why women tend to have certain types of cardiovascular diseases at different ages then do their male counterparts.
This Finding Is Really Important
Identifying hypertension is critical to protecting our health. If not effectively managed, hypertension can increase our risk for a variety of diseases and conditions in addition to cardiovascular disease. These include weakening our immune systems as well as damaging our kidneys and increasing our risk for developing dementia, vision loss and sexual dysfunction. Hypertensive women also develop more arterial stiffness, heart problems and dementia. They also run a greater risk of aortic aneurysms rupturing at a smaller size.
Hypertension appears to be a more frequent cause of premature death than other chronic diseases, especially among older women, who, for those over 60, have an incidence of high blood pressure of approximately 65 percent. In fact, one in three deaths of women in the U.S. are attributed to cardiovascular disease, and managing blood pressure is one of the major risk factors that we can readily do something about. Some estimates are that if all hypertension in women could be eliminated, this would result in a 38 percent reduction in death from cardiovascular disease in this group. Even controlling it would reduce these deaths by about seven percent.
Given that more than half of the almost 86 million adults with hypertension in the U.S. are women, it’s clear that identifying and managing it as early as possible is even more important than ever. This new research means that women may now start effective management of their blood pressure sooner than they otherwise would have, protecting their health even further. Doing so could also have an even greater benefit to Black and Hispanic women, who have a higher risk of hypertension.What You Can Do to Avoid or Better Manage High Blood Pressure
- One of the first things you, as a woman, can do to maintain a healthy blood pressure is manage your weight. Being more than 20 pounds or more over your ideal weight increases your risk of developing hypertension.
- You should also be especially vigilant if you have a history of high blood pressure in your family or if you have reached menopause. This phase of life, along with pregnancy, increases your risk of hypertension.
- Oral contraceptives can also increase your risk.
- One other thing to be aware of is that women are more prone than men to having what is known as “white-coat hypertension,” which is a temporary increase in blood pressure when you are at the doctor (doctors usually wear white lab coats). This usually passes as you get used to being at the doctor’s, but there is now evidence that over time it could become sustained high hypertension. Be sure to talk with your healthcare provider if this happens to you and/if you have concerns about it.
- You also should take a look at your lifestyle and nutrition to make sure you are doing all you can in these areas to ward off or control hypertension. The first thing to do here, of course, is to get a nutrition test to make sure you don’t have any imbalances or deficiencies that could contribute to making you hypertensive. Magnesium, calcium, vitamin C and potassium, for example, are very important for blood pressure control. You also may want to consider taking a probiotic since there is evidence that they may play a role in reducing hypertension. Also work to plan to reduce sugar, salt, unhealthy fats, excess calories and excess carbohydrates. Eat more unprocessed food and drink plenty of water (recommended: the number of your weight divided by two = ounces of water you should have every day).
- On the lifestyle front, make sure that you are getting enough exercise. A little more than two hours a week should do it (150 minutes to be exact). Pick something you enjoy, which will help you stick to it over time. Even a brisk walk works!
- Also make sure to get enough healthy sleep. Studies show sleep deficiency over time may increase your risk for hypertension.
- And last, but not least, consider becoming a pet owner. There is evidence pet ownership is associated with lower blood pressure.
One more thing. If you happen to be a relaxed, easygoing type of person, don’t assume that you can’t have high blood pressure. Remember, there is a reason it is called the “silent killer.” You can’t tell just by looking at someone. So, get it checked!
Enjoy your healthy life!
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice. Please consult with your doctor or another competent healthcare practitioner to get specific medical advice for your situation.
The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.