Ladies, did you know that until age 65 women and men are equally likely to have high blood pressure. But after age 65, your chance of developing high blood pressure is much higher than a man’s. This often surprises people, but it’s an important fact to know.
Left untreated, high blood pressure:
- Triples your risk of developing coronary artery disease
- Makes you 6 times more likely to develop heart failure
- Puts you at 7 times greater risk of having a stroke
- Increases your risk of developing vision loss and kidney disease
The good news—and what I’ve told every patient I’ve treated—is high blood pressure is preventable if you arm yourself with the facts.
What Is Normal Blood Pressure for a Woman?
Your blood pressure is made up of two numbers: the systolic pressure (top number) and diastolic pressure (bottom number). Systolic pressure measures the flow of blood against your arterial walls as your heart contracts. Diastolic pressure is the force between beats when your heart is filling with oxygen and blood.
What should your blood pressure be? Healthy blood pressure for a woman is the same as it is for a man:
- Normal Blood Pressure: less than 120/80 mmHg
- Elevated Blood Pressure: 120 to 129/80 mmHg
- High Blood Pressure: 130/80 mmHG or higher
To get an accurate blood pressure reading, sit upright with your back supported, feet on the ground, and with your arm resting on a table. It’s also important to refrain from talking.
Blood pressure levels can be higher in the morning, so I always advise my patients to take their blood pressure at several times throughout the day to get an accurate reading.
Symptoms of High Blood Pressure in Women
High blood pressure earned its nickname the “silent killer” because in most cases you will feel no symptoms. Yet subtle symptoms of high blood pressure can appear in women, if you know what to look for, including:
- Nose bleeds
- Blurred vision
- Diastolic dysfunction (shortness of breath)
If you have one or more of these symptoms of high blood pressure, don’t ignore them. Make sure you check your blood pressure and discuss it with your doctor.
What Causes High Blood Pressure in Women?
There are many possible causes of high blood pressure in women that can occur alone or in combination, including:
- Menopause: High blood pressure and menopause often go hand in hand. As your estrogen levels decline, your arteries can lose elasticity and become more constrictive, raising your blood pressure. So, if you’re in menopause pay careful attention to your blood pressure.
- Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers: A report from the Harvard School of Medicine’s Nurses’ Health Study concluded women are at increased risk for high blood pressure levels if they take daily doses of painkillers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil and Motrin). Plus, more recently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a strong warning that NSAIDs can increase the risk of strokes and heart attacks for both men and women. While occasional use of painkillers is fine, continued use can put you at risk.
- A BMI of 25 or More: Carrying extra weight can significantly increase your chances of developing high blood pressure. When researchers from Emory University reviewed findings from the Nurses’ Health Study they found having a body mass index (BMI) of less than 25 helps with blood pressure control. Even losing just 10 extra pounds can help your blood pressure.
- A Sedentary Lifestyle: Regular exercise helps to lower stress hormones in your bloodstream that can raise your blood pressure. Plus, physical activity keeps your blood vessels relaxed and helps you maintain a healthy weight.
- Stress: Mental and emotional stress can raise your blood pressure. That’s because stress activates your sympathetic nervous system, releasing adrenaline and cortisol that increases your heart rate, constricts your blood vessels, and increases your blood pressure.
- Smoking: Nicotine (which is a powerful vasoconstrictor) and other chemicals found in cigarettes can damage your blood vessel walls, raising your blood pressure. So, if you smoke it’s important to quit.
- Eating Too Much (or Too Little) Salt: To maintain healthy blood pressure, limit your salt intake to less than 2.8 grams daily. But don’t drastically reduce your salt consumption, since eating less than 2,500 mg of sodium daily can raise your blood pressure.
- A Sugary Diet: Many people know salt can cause high blood pressure, but what many people don’t know is that sugar can raise your blood pressure as well. So, to maintain healthy blood pressure, it’s important to limit the amount of sugar in your diet.
How to Lower Your Blood Pressure
If you’re a woman with high blood pressure, there are many things you can do to help lower your blood pressure naturally, including:
- Eat a Pan-Asian Modified Mediterranean (PAMM) Diet: The PAMM diet is filled with heart healthy foods. Some of the best blood pressure lowering foods that you can eat are natto, apples, onions, garlic, crushed flaxseed, dark chocolate, and blueberries. Plus, you want to drink plenty of clean filtered water, since staying hydrated will help you to maintain a healthy blood pressure.
- Take Blood Pressure Supporting Supplements: Some of the best nutrients to support healthy blood pressure include hawthorn (500 mg 2 to 3 times daily), magnesium (200 to 400 mg daily), coenzyme Q10 (200 to 300 mg daily), and omega-3 fatty acids (1 to 2 g daily).
- Up Your Folate Intake: A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that hypertensive women who took more than 1,000 mcg of folate (folic acid) daily had a 46% reduction in high blood pressure. Folate is found in oranges, leafy, greens, and beans. I also recommend taking at least 800 mcg a day of folic acid in supplement form to help reduce high blood pressure.
- Exercise: Getting regular physical activity is an important part of maintaining healthy blood pressure. The best combination of exercise for blood pressure is regular aerobic activity and weight training.
- Reduce Stress: In addition to getting regular exercise, make sure you’re participating in activities that help to reduce stress. Some of the best ways to lower stress include yoga, meditation, and T’ai Chi.