According to a recent article from the Journal of American Medicine Association (JAMA) Cardiology, a study found women have a greater increase in blood pressure than men. The increase for women also begins at a younger age than men. This shows researchers that women’s blood vessels age faster than men’s and cardiovascular disease occurs differently in women.
“This is not a surprise as women often have different symptoms of heart disease than men and are often under-diagnosed as well,” says Daisy F. Lazarous, MD, a cardiologist and director of the Women’s Cardiovascular Program with Adventist HealthCare.
Here is what you need to know about this important study and how it can affect the way you think about your heart health.
Researchers studied 145,000 blood pressure measurements for over 32,000 people between the ages of 5 and 98 throughout a period of 43 years. Looking at differences between men and women, it was found that an earlier rise in blood pressure occurred in women versus men, in some cases starting for women in their 20’s. Blood pressure would also continue to rise higher in women than men. It has been determined that the treatment and even prevention for high blood pressure needs to be tailored specifically for women. The original belief was men had a higher cardiovascular risk at a younger age and that women would reach the same risk at an older age.
Heart Disease in Women
As the study points out, younger women are developing high blood pressure earlier, a risk factor for heart disease. Women also have other unique risk factors that make them more at risk for heart disease such as a history of Eclampsia, Preeclampsia, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and Gestational Diabetes and Gestational Hypertension.
“Women’s hearts are special and, even when they are young, it’s important to take steps to prevent complications like heart attack and stroke,” states Dr. Lazarous. “Women and their doctors need to be proactive and take steps early to prevent things like high blood pressure which can turn into other health conditions.”
Preventing Heart Disease in Women
Decreasing your risk can start right at home by:
- Increasing your physical activity to at least 30 minutes a day, three to five days a week
- Eating more fruits and veggies and watching your salt intake
- Eat less processed foods
- Avoid drinking alcohol, even one drink raises blood pressure and the risk of heart disease.
- If you smoke – quit!
Dr. Lazarous says one area that is often overlooked is your stress level. “Women tend to take it all on themselves – kids, housework, work projects, etc. It’s hard to do, but make your health a priority by setting aside a small amount of time for you to de-stress. It can be as little as a five-minute, deep-breathing exercise that will help you re-center and bring down any stress you may be feeling.”
Heart Disease Treatment in Women
Women are often under-diagnosed and can have different symptoms. It’s important to talk with your doctor, no matter your age, about your reproductive and family history. You should also schedule your annual physical and know your numbers – blood pressure, A1C (blood sugar), Cholesterol and Body Mass Index (BMI). This can lead to early prevention through lifestyle modifications, or even medication, to help control and prevent further development.
Dr. Lazarous says, “this study is an important step in recognizing that women’s hearts are special and brings to light how important early prevention is to reducing heart disease in women before it’s too late.”