As women age and move into menopause, hypertension or high blood pressure can be a significant danger to their health. Unfortunately many women are unaware that they even have hypertension as often times, there are no symptoms. This common yet unrecognized condition can lead to strokes, heart attacks, and premature death if left untreated. It’s estimated that up to 70 percent of women in their 60s and 70s will have hypertension, and according to the Centers for Disease Control, after age 75 the rates rises to almost 80 percent.
The best way to find out if you have hypertension is by seeing your healthcare provider and having your blood pressure checked. Again, many times, patients are without symptoms so consistent monitoring is the best way to track trends in your blood pressure. Left unchecked and untreated, high blood pressure can wreak havoc on your blood vessels and arteries. The increased blood flow can damage artery walls and cause plaques formed by cholesterol to break off and cause heart attacks and strokes. Additionally, over time, unchecked hypertension can weaken and damage the heart because of the extra exertion causing heart failure. Kidney damage, dementia, vision problems, and aneurysms are several other health conditions that can develop if hypertension is left untreated.
An annual checkup with your healthcare provider will help determine if your blood pressure is too high and needs to be treated. Blood pressure will be taken with a pressure-measuring gauge which has an inflatable arm cuff and may be measured with a stethoscope or electronically and will give you a blood pressure measurement.
This number is represented as two measurements: your systolic and diastolic pressures. The top number is the systolic pressure, which measures the artery pressure when your heart beats and the bottom number is the diastolic pressure which measures the pressure between heart beats.
Normal blood pressure is below 120/80 mm Hg (millimeters of mercury). A systolic pressure from 120-139 and a diastolic from 80-89 is considered pre-hypertension. Higher systolic pressures between 140-159 and diastolic between 90-99 are graded as Stage 1 hypertension and Stage 2 is systolic pressures of 160 or higher and diastolic pressures of 100 or higher.
One high reading will not get you a hypertension diagnosis, and healthcare providers will take several readings if your blood pressure measures higher than normal. In fact, many people suffer from a condition called “white coat hypertension,” which is simply a higher-than-normal blood pressure exhibited at the provider’s office. For that reason, you may be asked to come back on another occasion or even take blood pressure readings at home at various times throughout the day to determine if you truly have hypertension.
If you are diagnosed with hypertension, your healthcare provider may want to order additional tests to rule out any underlying conditions that may be causing your hypertension, such as kidney or heart conditions. If a secondary condition is ruled out and you are diagnosed with primary or essential hypertension, your healthcare provider may consider treating your condition with prescription medication.
Usually starting with the lowest dose, your provider may prescribe one or more of the following class of medications: angitensin-converting enzyme inhibitors or ACE, angiotensin-receptor blockers, Beta blockers, diuretics or calcium-channel blockers. Each of these medications works in different ways to bring down your blood pressure. Your healthcare provider should explain how each of these compounds works to lower blood pressure, and sometimes you might require a few to get the desired effect. It is not uncommon to have to adjust and try different combinations to find a satisfactory combination to get the desired results. As with all medications, there can be various side effects, and you should share this information with your healthcare provider.
Along with medication intervention, it is wise to try and implement lifestyle changes to help reduce the amount of medication you might have to take. For example, if you’re overweight, try to increase your exercise level and improve your eating habits. Walking is a great way to burn calories, and watching your diet can help you lose some weight. Eating more fruits and vegetables in place of high fat, high sugar foods will help to make you feel better as well. If you smoke, you should ask your healthcare provider for help in quitting. Managing stress through exercise, meditation, or relaxation can also help to manage hypertension.
With proper interventions, high blood pressure can be well managed and controlled, which will minimize the risk of heart attacks and stroke.
Dr. Hardy practices obstetrics and gynecology at Atlantic Ob/Gyn located in Va. Beach and Chesapeake. Please visit www.atlanticobgyn.com.