February 10th, 2020

You may already know that heart attack symptoms in women may be much more subtle than those in men. Now, new gender-specific research is finding key differences for women and men when it comes to another condition related to heart disease: high blood pressure.

According to a recent study published in JAMA Cardiology, women overall experience a steeper rise in blood pressure than men. That increase can begin to appear in a woman’s 20s and may continue throughout her lifespan. Such an early rise in women’s blood pressure may set the stage for cardiovascular disease later in life.

The study, conducted by researchers as the Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, compared nearly 33,000 men and women ranging in age from 5 to 98 over four decades.

“This type of gender-specific research is significant,” says cardiologist Miroslawa Jablonski-Cohen, MD, with Alderfer & Travis Cardiology, a Grand View Medical Practice. “It helps us understand how men’s and women’s blood pressure concerns differ. It also gives us more unique clues that we can use to help both men and women reduce their overall risk for heart and cardiovascular disease.”

The reason for the difference in women’s blood pressure, researchers say, is partially due to women’s body types. Women are typically smaller in stature than men. “As a result, their blood vessels are also smaller,” Jablonski-Cohen says.

A blood pressure above 130/80 mm HG is a sign of high blood pressure and should be taken seriously, no matter a woman’s age. High blood pressure puts extra stress on a person’s heart and blood vessels.

What does this new research on blood pressure mean for women? “It means women should get their blood pressure checked and, if it’s high, follow up with your family medicine physician or cardiologist to discuss a treatment program tailored to your individual needs.” Jablonski-Cohen says.

High blood pressure is preventable in most cases. In fact, according to the American Heart Association, 80 percent of all heart disease is preventable.

Ways to lower women’s blood pressure include:

  • Stop smoking
  • Exercise regularly (at least two-and-a-half hours a week of moderate activity
  • Choose whole foods over ultra-processed foods
  • Limit your sodium intake
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Limit alcohol consumption