Diane Walker, RN, MS, CSA
Hypertension — more commonly known as high blood pressure — is an affliction that, according to the CDC, affects 1 in 3 Americans and over half of individuals 55 and older. High blood pressure is a serious threat to our health and well-being. It occurs sooner in men (around the age of 45 and onward), particularly in those of African American descent.
While these statistics are certainly cause for concern, studies have also shown that women are, on average, 30-40% more likely to have hypertension. A recent article from the Harvard Women’s Health Watch revealed that roughly 70% of women in their 60s and 70s and 80% of women over the age of 75 have high blood pressure. Considering that this condition leads to stroke and heart disease in elderly women, and that the number one cause of death in women is the former, it bears some much needed attention.
Regularly Monitor Your Blood Pressure
Excess weight, lack of exercise or activity, and/or a diet high in sodium combined with genetic predisposition places millions of elderly women at risk for developing high blood pressure. If not regulated, this disease can cause premature heart failure and a far range of other health complications. Despite how widespread hypertension is, a lot of people remain unclear about what it is and/or how to prevent it. Blood pressure tests are part and parcel of every medical examination. Think back to all those you had visited the doctor for a check-up or when you were sick.
Chances are, the first thing the physician did was wrap that Velcro sleeve around your arm. This test is simple and effective, and it is used to determine a person’s systolic and diastolic blood pressure rates. The former measures the force at which blood is flowing through your arteries when your heart is beating and the latter refers to the subsequent force when it is resting. A healthy blood pressure reading is anything under 120/80.
Understanding High Blood Pressure in Elderly Women
So why are women more prone to hypertension than men? A study by the research team at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center sought to find the answer to this question, and what they found that female antihypertensive hormones have a tougher time regulating blood pressure than their male counterparts. Despite being at a genetic disadvantage, you and your loved one can do much to keep this disease in check.
High Blood Pressure Causes in Elderly Women and How to Prevent Them
There are a number of high blood pressure causes where it concerns elderly women, however, several of these causes can be prevented or taking action can help lessen risk factors before developing Stage 1 or Stage 2 hypertension.
Stage 1 hypertension is defined by systolic blood pressure that falls between 140 and 150 and a diastolic pressure reading between 90 and 99. Stage 2 hypertension is diagnosed when systolic pressure reaches 160 or above and diastolic pressure reads 100 or higher.
Older women should be mindful of these factors that can influence high blood pressure and consider several medical and lifestyle changes to stay healthy.
- Stop smoking and drinking alcohol. These substances put older women at a greater risk for developing high blood pressure, particularly the more dangerous Stage II hypertension.
- Poor diet and a lack of exercise can also contribute to high blood pressure. Eating healthy and staying shape can make monumental strides in reducing hypertension and lowering the stress on your heart.
- Certain OTC medications (such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and naproxen found in common household pain relievers) and birth control pills can increase a woman’s blood pressure.
- Women who had previously taken birth control pills or used hormonal birth control methods for an extended period of time, or older women who used birth control pills as part of a Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) regimen are also at greater risk for high blood pressure.
- According to the American Heart Association, menopause also increases a woman’s chances of developing high blood pressure. Doctors speculate that an increase in weight during menopause, sensitivity to salt in processed foods and overall sodium intake, and fluctuating hormones may be driving factors behind the link between menopause and high blood pressure.