Women with mildly high blood pressure in their 40s more likely to have heart disease

On World Hypertension Day, a European study explains why women are at a higher risk of heart disease than men—especially when they have elevated BP readings in their 40s.
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Dear ladies, get your blood pressure checked regularly. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
ANI Updated: 30 Oct 2023, 15:24 pm IST
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It’s a fact well known that unchecked high blood pressure can invite heart disease. And now, a European study is suggesting that middle-aged women might be facing the brunt of it more than men.

Women with mildly elevated blood pressure in their early 40s have a two-fold risk of acute coronary syndromes in their 50s compared to their counterparts with normal blood pressure, according to a study published on World Hypertension Day in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.

“Even if they feel healthy, women should have their blood pressure measured by their primary care physician and repeated at regular intervals with the frequency-dependent on the level,” said study author Dr Ester Kringeland of the University of Bergen, Norway. “Those with other risk factors for heart disease, such as obesity, diabetes, autoimmune disorders, pregnancy complications, or parents with high blood pressure need more intense monitoring.”

Previous studies have suggested that high blood pressure is a stronger risk factor for heart disease in women than in men. In addition, young and middle-aged women have on average lower blood pressure than men, but despite this, the threshold for diagnosing high blood pressure is the same in both sexes.

Even mildly-elevated blood pressure can increase women’s risk of heart problems

This study investigated whether mildly elevated blood pressure (130-139/80-89 mmHg) was a stronger risk factor for acute coronary syndromes in women than in men.

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Blood pressure was measured in 6,381 women and 5,948 men participating in the community-based Hordaland Health Study at age 41 years. Heart attacks were recorded during 16 years of follow up.

The researchers found that in women, having mildly elevated blood pressure was associated with a doubled risk of acute coronary syndromes during midlife. This association was not found in men after adjusting for other cardiovascular disease risk factors.

Dr. Kringeland said: “Our analyses confirmed that mildly elevated blood pressure affects the risk of acute coronary syndromes in a sex-specific manner. The results add to emerging evidence indicating that high blood pressure has particularly unfavourable effects on women’s hearts.”

Women are more at risk than men!

Dr Kringeland noted that the findings probably reflect differences between women and men in how the small arteries respond to elevated blood pressure, but this needs to be further explored. She said: “Young women have on average lower blood pressure than men, but a steeper increase is observed in women starting in the third decade. Since the threshold for high blood pressure is the same in both sexes, young women have in fact had a relatively larger increase than men before being diagnosed with high blood pressure.”

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Dr Kringeland concluded: “Women should know their blood pressure. To retain normal blood pressure, it is recommended to maintain normal body weight, keep a healthy diet and exercise regularly. Furthermore, it is advisable to avoid smoking and excessive consumption of alcohol and salt.”

Professor Bryan Williams, ESC Chairperson of the European hypertension guidelines2 and Chair of Medicine at University College London, UK said: “This is a very important finding with a strong message. It has often been assumed based on the way we are encouraged to estimate the risk of heart disease, that the cardiovascular risk associated with elevated blood pressure in mid-life life is greater for men than women. Importantly, this study suggests that this is not the case and that even mild elevations in blood pressure in women in early and mid-life should not be ignored.”

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