Hypertension Risks Women

Women have rates of hypertension equal to those seen in men, despite the common belief that men are more likely to have high blood pressure. Women must contend with causes of high blood pressure that are specific to their gender. Pregnancy and menopause are high risk times for hypertension in women.

Hypertension during Pregnancy

Monitoring blood pressure is an important part of good prenatal care. Hypertension is believed to accompany up to 15 percent of pregnancies. Physicians recognize four distinct types of hypertension in women who are pregnant:

  • Chronic hypertension: High blood pressure before becoming pregnant or before 20 weeks of gestation
  • Gestational hypertension: High blood pressure after 20 weeks of gestation with no associated protein loss in the urine
  • Preeclampsia: Hypertension diagnosed after 20 weeks of gestation with loss of protein in the urine
  • Preeclampsia and chronic hypertension: The known hypertensive pregnant woman begins to show protein loss as well as hypertension.

Fortunately, the most common manifestation of hypertension during pregnancy is transient gestational hypertension, which typically resolves within 12 weeks of delivery. Monitoring of blood pressure during and after pregnancy is required to make sure the condition is not the early stages of preeclampsia or the beginning of chronic hypertension. Gestational hypertension requires treatment if blood pressure remains elevated more than 12 weeks after delivering the baby.

This underscores the importance of good medical care prior to and during pregnancy. Women with chronic high blood pressure who take hypertension medication should consult with their doctor before getting pregnant. Some women, believing that hypertension medication may harm their child, stop taking their medicine upon learning that they are pregnant. Always consult with your doctor before making any changes to your hypertension medication.

What is Preeclampsia?

Preeclampsia is actually a separate condition that involves the symptoms of hypertension with protein loss in the urine. Preeclampsia is a potentially serious complication that can harm both mother and baby, and involves a number of abnormal physiological changes in the mother.

Preeclampsia bears close monitoring since it can progress to full blown eclampsia with the presence of seizures. Other symptoms that may accompany preeclampsia include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Abnormal liver enzymes
  • Blood clotting abnormalities
  • Blurred vision
  • Headaches.

These symptoms may occur prior to the appearance of protein loss in the urine, a diagnostic sign that helps confirm the diagnosis.

Preeclampsia tends to run in families. Women whose mothers suffered from preeclampsia are three times more likely to develop symptoms associated with preeclampsia than other women. Men whose mothers had preeclampsia are likely to pass that risk along to their mates. This raises the possibility that there is some type of interaction between the mother and the unborn child (with genetic factors from the father) that contributes to preeclampsia.

Postmenopausal Hypertension and Women

Although men are more likely to develop hypertension earlier and in greater overall numbers, more women than men suffer from high blood pressure after the age of 60.

After menopause, changes in women’s hormone levels may make them more susceptible to hypertension. Researchers remain unsure just how much of an effect menopause has on hypertension, and how many cases of hypertension in older women result from aging. Regardless, monitoring of blood pressure is a recommended part of routine health care for postmenopausal women.

Resources

American Academy of Family Physicians Staff. (2008). High blood pressure during pregnancy. Retrieved March 8, 2010, from the Family Doctor Web site: http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/women/pregnancy/complications/695.html.

American Heart Association Staff. (2009). High blood pressure and women. Retrieved March 8, 2010, from the American Heart Association Web site: http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=2123.

Pruthi, S. (2008). Menopause and high blood pressure: What’s the connection? Retrieved March 8, 2010, from the Mayo Clinic Web site: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/menopause-and-high-blood-pressure/AN01463.