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Hypertension: Women and High Blood Pressure

Hypertension is, in the public perception, a condition associated with overweight middle-aged men. In many cases, the primary cause of their high blood pressure is their sedentary lifestyle, poor diet, excessive drinking and smoking. Perhaps because of stereotyping, these lifestyle choices are not traditionally seen as characteristic of women. Times have changed. Women are now just as at risk of developing the condition as men.

Causes of Hypertension

There are two main types of high blood pressure: essential and secondary hypertension. In essential hypertension, it is not possible to determine the direct cause of the condition. It is sometimes attributed to a genetic predisposition where there is a history of the condition within the immediate family. Notwithstanding that the cause cannot be identified, being overweight, having a poor diet, smoking, heavy drinking, and having a sedentary lifestyle are also risk factors for essential hypertension.

Secondary hypertension can be caused by and traced to variety of factors such as medication, kidney problems, being overweight, having a poor diet, lifestyle choices and pregnancy.  High blood pressure can cause complications during pregnancy.

Hypertension in Women

It is a widely held misconception that women develop high blood pressure as a symptom of their menstrual period. What is clear though is that just like in the case of men, lifestyle choices contribute to a woman developing hypertension.

Over the last few decades women’s lifestyles, in general, have become more sedentary. A generation ago, a woman, who is now termed a “stay at home mom”, would have had a physically active lifestyle.  That has gradually changed as labour saving devices have lifted much of the physical burden and whereas previously, she would have walked or cycled to do the daily shopping, she now drives to the supermarket once a week or even once a month. Even that is gradually dying out with online shopping and home delivery. Shopping has become a leisure activity.

Many working women have office based jobs that have become more sedentary in nature with the introduction of Information Technology.

A generation ago, it was not socially acceptable for a woman to be a heavy drinker or to smoke as heavily as men did. Over the last 20 years or so, there has been a sharp rise in the number of women who smoke and or drink heavily.

Because the risks of a woman developing high blood pressure are now broadly the same as a man, and more so during pregnancy, women should take the following measures to reduce the risk:

  • Have a healthy balanced diet that is low in fat and sodium and moderate in sugar. Traditionally, women’s diets were considered to be healthier than men’s , but the rise in popularity of fast foods and snacks that have a high salt and fat content means that view is less valid than it used to be.
  • Reduce the amount of coffee and sodas you drink. Try to drink about 2 litres of water each day.
  • Lose excess weight.
  • Become more physically active. Engage in aerobic exercises such as brisk walking, cycling or swimming.
  • Reduce alcohol consumption.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Learn to relax

There is no cure for hypertension. It can only be managed. If the guidance given in this article is followed, over time, a woman’s high blood pressure can be lowered to normal levels.

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Photo credit: Image: Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

(c) Robert Reddin

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