All your life you were proud of the fact that you had low blood pressure. But at your last doctor visit, your blood pressure levels spiked. What’s up? Is this one more health issue to blame on menopause?
Many women find that their blood pressure goes up when they reach their 50s and 60s, which coincides with menopause. And some studies have indicated that there may be a connection between the two because of the drop in estrogen levels. Estrogen is thought to have a positive effect on the inner layer of artery walls, which keeps blood vessels flexible.
But other researchers say that the correlation is largely coincidental. “High blood pressure is strongly linked with age” says Erin D. Michos, M.D., associate professor of medicine and epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. “The Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation suggests that an increase in blood pressure in older women is related to aging in general, rather than to menopause specifically.”
The danger of high blood pressure
High blood pressure, also called hypertension, causes arteries to narrow over time and harden. About 70 percent of people who have a first heart attack and 80 percent of people who have a first stroke have high blood pressure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Risk factors for high blood pressure
Two primary risk factors are family history and age. If your parents or other close blood relatives have high blood pressure, your risk increases. In addition, the older you are, the more likely you are to develop high blood pressure.
Gender and race are also factors. Up until age 45 men are more likely than women to develop hypertension, but from 45 to 64 the odds are similar. And after age 65 women are more likely to have the condition. Being African-American also puts you at greater risk.
Other risk factors include:
• Not getting enough physical activity
• 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
• Having had high blood pressure when you were pregnant.
In addition, smoking causes a temporary increase in blood pressure.
What you can do
According to the American Heart Association, 80 percent of heart disease and stroke cases can be prevented. To keep your blood pressure numbers under control, be sure to make exercise a regular habit, and limit your consumption of alcohol and food high in sodium.
Hypertension in women increases considerably after menopause. Because there are often no obvious symptoms to alert you to increasing blood pressure, make sure to check it regularly with an arm device at home.