Why menopause puts women at risk for hypertension

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Why menopause puts women at risk for hypertension

During a woman’s reproductive life, from menstruation to menopause, most women have a lower risk of developing high blood pressure.  Thanks to the hormone estrogen, it plays a big role in helping keep blood vessels flexible while modulating other hormone activities that can contribute to the possibility of a woman developing high blood pressure. 

Estrogen, menopause and high blood pressure

But then, menopause happens and suddenly things may change.  Women, who may have always had normal to even low blood pressure, may be told for the first time in their lives that their blood pressure is elevated. 

This unexpected and unwelcomed transition often occurs when women enter their 50s and 60s, which coincides with menopause.  It also coincides with the timing of when estrogen levels drop significantly.  When women are younger and before they have gone through menopause, estrogen levels are high which is providing a fairly broad level of protection from high blood pressure.

The primary source of protective estrogen in women of reproductive age is the ovaries.  During menopause, hormone levels begin to shift which does include estrogen, leading to a large drop in the amount of circulating estrogen.  As the levels of estrogen drops, a woman’s risk of developing high blood pressure rises.  These falling levels of estrogen also are a primary cause of menopausal symptoms of hot flashes, mood swings, and appetite changes. 

But some researchers believe that the correlation between menopause, decreasing estrogen levels and high blood pressure are largely coincidental.  Many state high blood pressure is strongly linked with age and that any increase in blood pressure in older women is related to aging rather than to menopause specifically.

High blood pressure dangers

What is known for sure are the dangers any person faces who has high blood pressure. High blood pressure can cause arteries to narrow over time and harden.  According to the CDC, 70 percent of people who have a first heart attack and 80 percent of people who have a first stroke have high blood pressure.

What women need to know about high blood pressure

There are many risk factors for developing high blood pressure.  Two common ones are having a family history and age.  The average age of U.S. women at the time of menopause is 51 years.  The most common age range of when women experience menopause is 48-55 years.  Up until age 45, men are more likely than women to develop hypertension, but from 45 to 64 the odds are similar.  Then, after age 65, women are more likely to have the condition.

Men or women who are African-American are also at a greater risk for developing high blood pressure.

 Other risk factors include:

·      Not being physically active

·      Being overweight or obese

·      Consuming too much sodium (salt)

·      Drinking too much alcohol (more than one drink a day for women)

·      Having diabetes, gout, or kidney disease

·      Women who had high blood pressure when they were pregnant

·      Smoking

What women can do to lower their risk

A woman is not able to turn back the clock or prevent menopause from happening, but there are certain things she can do to keep her blood pressure under control:

·      Follow the DASH diet to lower sodium – Between the huge amount of hidden sodium in processed food and liberal use of table salt, many women may be getting four times their daily requirement.  Reduce sodium intake by eating more potassium-rich foods.  These include avocados, bananas, yogurt, and melons.  Read labels of packaged foods checking for the sodium level.  Better yet, consume infrequently foods that are boxed, bagged or canned. Include more unsalted nuts, fruits, vegetables, and beans for naturally low-sodium foods. 

·      Exercise on a regular basis – Exercise is proven as effective as medicine in treating high blood pressure.  Exercise makes artery walls more elastic, helping to keep blood flow moving easily in the body.  Get in 30-60 minutes of physical activity on most days of the week and choose an exercise you enjoy.

·      Do not smokeThe nicotine in cigarette smoke is a big part of the problem. It raises blood pressure and heart rate, narrows arteries and hardens their walls making blood more likely to clot.  It also stresses the heart setting one up for a heart attack or stroke. 

·      Limit consumption of alcohol – If a woman currently does not consume alcohol, she does not need to start.  Women, who do drink alcohol, need to limit their intake to no more than one drink a day which is defined as either a 12-ounce can of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor.  Any more than that can significantly increase the risk of hypertension.

·      Have blood pressure checked regularly - A blood pressure check is a painless procedure done every time a person visits their doctor.  Many people who have not visited a doctor for a long time will have no idea what their blood pressure is and may be unaware if it is high.  Uncontrolled high blood pressure leads to many different medical problems such as stroke, coronary heart disease, and kidney disease.  Blood pressure should be checked at least once yearly at a woman’s annual physical.

·      Lose weight if overweight – Being overweight or obese is a major factor for high blood pressure. Just a loss of 10 pounds can have a significant influence on lowering high blood pressure.  By following a healthy, plant-based diet and increasing exercise, women can achieve a healthier body weight and blood pressure.

·      Practice emotional stress management – Stress can raise risk of high blood pressure.  Stress happens to everyone but the key is to find healthy ways of dealing with both emotional and physical stress.  Practice stress reducing activities such as yoga, meditation, being surrounded by supportive people, remaining physically and socially active, and enjoying activities that bring pleasure to one’s life.