From Our 2008 Archives

Hypertension a Health Challenge for Women

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Feb. 19 (HealthDay News) -- Women face unique challenges in keeping their blood pressure under control, and this may help explain why more women than men struggle with uncontrolled blood pressure.

That's just one of a series of conclusions based on studies published in a special issue of the journal Hypertension. The issue commemorates the fifth anniversary of the American Heart Association's "Go Red For Women" campaign, which is designed to focus awareness of heart-disease risks for women.

Heart disease is the leading killer of women and men in the United States, and high blood pressure is a major contributor to such problems as heart attack and stroke.

The journal issue contains more than 45 studies and editorials that deal with the problem of high blood pressure among women. Issues examined include high blood pressure during pregnancy, and the disparity between women and men in controlling blood pressure.

"With only 60 percent of women with high blood pressure having their blood pressure controlled, we have a big problem that can lead to stroke and heart attack," said Dr. Nieca Goldberg, medical director of New York University Medical Center's Women's Heart Program, and a spokeswoman for the "Go Red For Women" campaign.

There are several reasons for this problem, Goldberg said. "I think one is that women's needs aren't being met in the doctor's office," she said. "Doctors have to pay more attention to women's blood pressure."

Also, women need to be informed about what their optimal blood pressure should be, Goldberg said. "Their optimal pressure should be less than 120/80 mmHg. By reducing blood pressure from 140/90 mmHg to 120/80 mmHg, you cut stroke risk in half and heart attack risk by 25 percent," she said.

Women also need to take steps to have their blood pressure diagnosed, Goldberg said.

"Women shouldn't just let the doctor take their blood pressure, they should ask for their number. People are very goal oriented, and when a patient knows what the goal is, they can focus on achieving that goal," said Goldberg, who's the author of The Women's Healthy Heart Program: Lifesaving Strategies for Preventing and Healing Heart Disease.

One study in the journal looked at the differences between American men and women in controlling blood pressure. It found that while a high percentage of both men and women did not have their blood pressure under control (55.9 percent of women and 50.8 percent of men), women were more likely to be obese and have high cholesterol than men.

Another study found that U.S. women were less likely to meet blood pressure target goals than men -- 54 percent of women compared to 58.7 percent of men. Women were also less likely than men to receive medications such as aspirin, blood pressure-lowering drugs or cholesterol-lowering drugs, compared to men, the study found.

There are steps women can take to help reduce the risk of high blood pressure. One of them is eating low-fat dairy foods, Goldberg said.

One study that looked at the benefit of low-fat dairy foods found that women 45 years old and older who ate such foods were at lower risk of developing high blood pressure.

"In our study, we found that higher low-fat dairy intake, but not high-fat dairy intake, was associated with lower risk of hypertension," said lead researcher Dr. Lu Wang, of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. "The association was partially attributed to calcium and vitamin D in dairy products."

A number of studies in the journal, which was published Feb. 8, focused on high blood pressure associated with pregnancy. One in 10 pregnancies is complicated by high blood pressure.

Women with high blood pressure are especially prone to developing preeclampsia during pregnancy. Among women with preeclampsia, 48 percent are likely to deliver low birth-weight babies, and 51 percent are likely to have pre-term infants, researchers found.

And smoking can increase the risks that occur with preeclampsia, but stopping smoking can reduce those risks, British researchers found.

SOURCES: Nieca Goldberg, M.D., medical director, New York University Medical Center's Women's Heart Program, New York City; Lu Wang, M.D., Ph.D., Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston; Feb. 8, 2008, Hypertension.

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