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High Blood Pressure

Women and High Blood Pressure

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Updated September 09, 2009

One in 4 adult Americans has high blood pressure (hypertension), although about a third of them don't know why. These statistics are concerning when you consider that high blood pressure is easy to diagnose and treat, and particularly alarming because hypertension is one of the most preventable causes of death in the United States.

Many people falsely assume that men are the most at risk for cardiovascular diseases, but -- at publication time -- more women than men had died of cardiovascular diseases every year since 1984. Untreated high blood pressure can cause kidney damage, and raises the risk of heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases. The cause of 3 out of 5 cases of heart failure in women is high blood pressure.

Coronary heart disease is the number one killer of American women, claiming more than 500,000 women's lives each year. Early detection and treatment of high blood pressure could prevent many of these deaths.

Who's at Risk For High Blood Pressure?

High blood pressure can happen to anyone at any age. It is often difficult to pinpoint a cause for high blood pressure, since several factors and conditions often play a role in its development.

Race and even geographic location appear statistically significant in some cases. African-American women who live in the Southeast United States are more likely to have high blood pressure than those who live elsewhere. Overall, African-Americans are more likely to develop high blood pressure at an earlier age and more severely than whites.

However, this certainly does not mean that the white population should consider high blood pressure an African-American disease. In fact, 11 states (Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia) in the Southeast are known as the "Stroke Belt States" because of the high rate of strokes experienced by males and females of all races.

Other factors that contribute to high blood pressure include smoking, lack of physical activity, overweight, high sodium intake, high cholesterol, excessive intake of alcoholic beverages, and heredity. Diabetes patients also are at greater risk for high blood pressure and other cardiovascular diseases.

Women who use oral contraceptives should have their blood pressure closely monitored, although the risk from oral contraceptives is much lower than it was previously because the amount of estrogen and progestin in today's pills is significantly less. Women with high blood pressure who smoke and use oral contraceptives face a 10 to 15 times greater risk of stroke.

After menopause, a woman's risk of high blood pressure and other cardiovascular diseases increases greatly; the risk increases significantly faster for women after hysterectomy, perhaps because the uterus produces chemicals that help regulate blood pressure.

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