Often, “high blood pressure” is a condition associated with older men who are overweight, stressed and sedentary. However, statistics show slightly more women than men suffer from hypertension (high blood pressure); and an estimated 20 percent of Americans are unaware they have high blood pressure. Jennifer Jarvie, MD, a board-certified cardiologist with Denver Heart, is imploring all women – even those in their 20s – to start paying attention to their numbers and take action if those numbers change. “Blood pressure is one of the biggest risk factor for cardiovascular disease,” Dr. Jarvie explains. “In Colorado, cardiovascular disease is the number 1 killer of women, but if we can get women to pay attention to their bodies, including their blood pressure values, we may be able to help prevent some of these deaths.”
Women and Blood Pressure
Unlike men, women are faced with unique circumstances that can affect blood pressure. “Taking birth control, especially as a pill, can increase your blood pressure; high blood pressure also affects about 1 in every 15 pregnancies, and a woman’s chance of having high blood pressure increases after menopause,” Dr. Jarvie details. Additionally, women should discuss their options with their doctor before stopping taking birth control.
And though women’s risk increases with age, women in their 20s, 30s and 40s also can experience hypertension, which is why Dr. Jarvie implores women to pay attention to their bodies. “If things don’t feel right, schedule a visit with your provider,” Dr. Jarvie encourages.
What’s a Good Blood Pressure Value?
The blood pressure values presented by your provider can feel mysterious—after all, what does 120 over 80 even mean? Dr. Jarvie explains that blood pressure is recorded in two values. “The first is systolic blood pressure, which measures how much pressure your blood places on your artery walls when the heart beats,” she explains. “The second number is diastolic blood pressure. This measures how much pressure your blood places on the artery walls while the heart rests between beats.”
Over time, experts have determined the healthy range for these values, which is less than 120 systolic and less than 80 diastolic.
The American Heart Association provides the following recommendations:
- Normal: Less than 120 and less than 80
- Elevated: 120-129 and less than 80
- Hypertension Stage 1: 130-139 or 80-89
- Hypertension Stage 2: 140 or higher or 90 or higher
- Hypertensive Crisis (consult your doctor immediately): Higher than 180 and/or higher than 120
How to Lower Blood Pressure
If you consistently have high blood pressure readings, talk to your doctor about lifestyle adjustments. Dr. Jarvie recommends incorporating exercise into your daily routine, eliminating salt, limiting alcohol, quitting smoking, managing stress and working in collaboration with your doctor.
“If you don’t see changes from these lifestyle modifications, your doctor may recommend medications to lower your numbers,” Dr. Jarvie encourages. “Regardless, it is important to adopt a heart-healthy lifestyle to not only lower blood pressure, but also lower your risk for serious conditions such as heart attack, stroke and heart failure.”
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