Hypertension in Women: How the Symptoms and Risk Factors Vary
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A recent study published in the Journal of Hypertension indicates that there is a direct association between social ties and risk of hypertension in women. The longitudinal study including more than 28,000 people between the ages of 45 and 85 years found that women with a small social circle and limited social participation (less than two social activities in a month) are more likely to get hypertension than women who had better or more social interactions. Hypertension risk was also found to be higher in widowed women than married women.
Hypertension (high blood pressure) is assumed to be more prevalent in the male population. However, experts suggest that it affects both the genders equally. In fact, after a certain age, women are more prone to the condition than men and the former have several very unique risk factors for high blood pressure both in the pre and post-menopausal age.
Unique risk factors
According to the American Heart Association, high blood pressure is not directly related to gender. However, pregnancy, menopause and use of birth control pills are some unique factors that put women at a higher risk of hypertension.
Research suggests that women who smoke, have a genetic predisposition to hypertension or are overweight are highly likely to have high blood pressure on regular use of birth control pills.
Similarly, pregnant women often experience high blood pressure. If you have had a history of hypertension, you may have to consult your doctor before trying to conceive since high blood pressure can harm both the baby and the mother.
Gestational hypertension develops after 20 weeks of pregnancy; you may develop this type of hypertension even if you never had the condition before. And then there is pre-eclampsia, a pregnancy complication wherein the woman has high blood pressure and limb swelling and protein in urine. Pre-eclampsia can be life-threatening for the mother and preterm delivery is the only way to resolve it.
Finally, after menopause, when the estrogen levels drop, a woman’s chances of developing hypertension increases significantly. Studies suggest that a combination of various factors including individual genetics, body mass index (BMI) and increased sympathetic nervous system activity are responsible for this spike in risk. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the flight and fight response. It increases blood pressure, decreases intestinal motility and accelerates heart rate.
Difference in symptoms
As per the European Society of Cardiology, hypertensive women experience more arterial stiffness, atrial fibrillation and heart failure in older age than hypertensive men. Since they have a smaller diameter of arteries, aneurysms in women rupture at a much smaller size than in men.
Hypertension is said to be a silent killer. Usually, it does not show any symptoms unless there is organ damage. However, in some young and middle-aged women, the condition can also be symptomatic. Such women report some of the following symptoms:
- Blurred vision
- A feeling that the bra is too tight
- Chest pain due to stress or continuous pain in chest that often travels up the shoulder and left arm or jaw
- Hot flushes
- Excessive sweating day and night
- Sleep disturbance
A lot of these symptoms are associated with stress or menopause. Experts suggest that if you notice these symptoms, it is best to consult a doctor, especially if you have a family history of hypertension.
For more information, read our article on High blood pressure.
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