High blood pressure sets the stage for all sorts of potential health complications. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), high blood pressure doesn’t discriminate based on gender; half of Americans with this condition are adult females. Normal blood pressure levels for women mean reduced risk for dire medical problems, such as heart attack and stroke.
Normal Blood Pressure
Blood pressure is the amount of pressure your blood puts on your artery walls, explains the National Heart Blood and Lung Institute (NHBLI). Your levels are recorded using two numerical values that gauge blood pressure in terms of millimeters of mercury, or mmHG. Your systolic pressure is measured when your heart beats; your diastolic pressure is measured when your heart is relaxed. Normal blood pressure in women — and men as well — is less than 120 mmHg, systolic, and less than 80 mmHg, diastolic.
High Blood Pressure
Blood pressure that falls outside the range of normal falls into different levels of severity, says MayoClinic.com. If your blood pressure is between 120 and 139, systolic, or 80 and 89, diastolic, these numbers are indicative of prehypertension. Stage 2 hypertension is indicated by blood pressure readings of 160 or more, systolic, and 100 or more, diastolic. While prehypertension can be treated by making adjustments to your diet and lifestyle, your doctor is likely to prescribe prescription drugs to manage stage 2 hypertension.
Blood pressure that’s higher than normal may be a concern during certain stages of a woman’s life. According to the AHA, taking oral contraception can cause high blood pressure, but this is more likely to happen if you’re overweight, have kidney disease, have a family history of high blood pressure or experienced during pregnancy. Factor in tobacco use, and this can also increase your risk for high blood pressure. Gestational hypertension — high blood pressure during pregnancy — can damage your kidneys and other organs and cause premature delivery and/or a low birth weight. In the worst case scenario, gestational hypertension can cause preeclampsia, a condition that can threaten your life and that of your unborn child, says the NHBLI.
Menopause and Blood Pressure
Blood pressure levels in women usually increase after they’ve gone through the menopause, says Mayo Clinic internist Sandhya Pruthi. One theory is that hormonal changes during menopause cause high blood pressure. Another is that increased body mass index (BMI), caused by hormonal changes is the culprit. Pruthi indicates that this may increase your sensitivity to dietary sodium. Hormone therapy may also factor into high blood pressure.
What to Do
Dietary and lifestyle changes are key to treating high blood pressure. According to MayoClinic.com, if you have high blood pressure, it’s essential to maintain a healthy weight. Eat a nutritious diet rich in whole grains, vegetables and fruits. Decrease the amount of salt in your diet, too. The AHA recommends restricting sodium intake to less than 1,500 mg a day. Get regular exercise, restrict alcohol and stop smoking. However, even if you don’t think you have high blood pressure, err on the safe side and have your doctor check it or check it yourself. According to the AHA, 20 percent of Americans with high blood pressure are unaware of their condition.