We all know high blood pressure is a serious medical condition. Blood pressure is a measurement of the force of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries as the heart pumps. When this pressure is too high over an extended period of time, it can have serious consequences like heart disease, stroke, or kidney failure.
Now new research by scientists at the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center suggests doctors may want to treat women with high blood pressure more aggressively than they treat men.
“The medical community thought that high blood pressure was the same for both sexes and treatment was based on that premise,” said Carlos Ferrario, M.D., professor of surgery at Wake Forest Baptist and lead author of the study. “This is the first study to consider sex as an element in the selection of antihypertensive agents or base the choice of a specific drug on the various factors accounting for the elevation in blood pressure.”
According to Ferrario, while there has been a significant decline in the number of heart-related deaths in men in the last 20 to 30 years, heart disease has emerged as the leading cause of death in women over the same time span. But why?
The Wake Forrest Baptist team recruited 100 men and women age 53 and older who had untreated high blood pressure for its study. Participants had a series of tests measuring their blood circulation and hormones.
The researchers found women had circulatory issues (referred to collectively as vascular disease) 30 to 40% more often than men with the same elevated blood pressure. The differences were both physical and hormonal, making the conditions more severe.
Ferrario says these findings highlight a need for further study.
“We need to evaluate new protocols – what drugs, in what combination and in what dosage – to treat women with high blood pressure,” Ferrario said.
What can we learn from this study? First, no one should take high blood pressure lightly, but women in particular may need to begin treatment at a lower threshold as compared to men. If you or a woman you love has high blood pressure, make sure you (or she) talk to your doctor about treatment options.
It’s also important to remember that high blood pressure is called the “silent killer” for a reason. It often has no warning signs or symptoms and, according to American Heart Association data, nearly 20% of people with high blood pressure don’t know they have it (PDF). If you don’t know your blood pressure, see a health care professional to be tested.