The theme for Jean Hailes Women’s Health Week for 2023, Day #1 is “Check Me Out.” It’s a powerful reminder that our health deserves our attention, and it’s time to take a closer look at the numbers that matter. As we explore various aspects of women’s health, from breast exams to vulva health, one vital number we often overlook is our blood pressure.
Recently, my husband had some high blood pressure readings, and his GP recommended that he buy a BP machine from the chemist to keep tabs on it.
We pull it out whenever we feel a little out of sorts. It is fascinating that our blood pressure can tell us so much about our bodies. And we can’t just feel if our blood pressure is normal or high.
High blood pressure, or hypertension, can pose several serious health risks. It’s often called the “silent killer” because it can develop without noticeable symptoms but cause significant harm over time.
Here are some of the key health risks associated with high blood pressure:
- Heart Disease: High blood pressure strains the heart, making it harder to pump blood. Over time, this can lead to coronary artery disease, heart attacks, and heart failure.
- Stroke: Hypertension increases the risk of strokes by damaging the blood vessels in the brain or causing blood clots. Both scenarios can lead to a stroke, which can have severe consequences, including paralysis and cognitive impairment.
- Kidney Damage: The kidneys play a vital role in regulating blood pressure. High blood pressure can damage the blood vessels in the kidneys, reducing their ability to filter waste from the blood. This can lead to kidney disease or kidney failure.
- Eye Problems: High blood pressure can damage the blood vessels in the eyes, increasing the risk of vision problems and, in severe cases, even vision loss.
- Aneurysms: Weakened blood vessels are more susceptible to developing aneurysms due to high blood pressure. Aneurysms are bulges in the blood vessels that can rupture and cause life-threatening internal bleeding.
- Cognitive Decline: Some studies suggest a link between high blood pressure and cognitive decline, including dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
- Sexual Dysfunction: Hypertension can affect blood flow to the genitals, leading to sexual dysfunction in both men and women.
- Pregnancy Complications: High blood pressure during pregnancy, known as preeclampsia, can be dangerous for both the mother and the baby. It can lead to premature birth, low birth weight, and other complications.
- Peripheral Artery Disease: Narrowed arteries due to high blood pressure can reduce blood flow to the limbs, leading to peripheral artery disease. This condition can cause pain, numbness, and, in severe cases, tissue damage and amputation.
- Other Health Issues: High blood pressure is a risk factor for various other health problems, including metabolic syndrome, sleep apnoea, and more.
Gender bias – who knew?
However, the ‘norm’ isn’t one-size-fits-all, especially regarding blood pressure. The magic numbers, 120/80, we often hear about are the benchmark for men. But for women, aiming for 110/70 is usually considered healthier. Why the difference, you ask? Well, it’s not just arbitrary; it’s based on fascinating biology.
With our unique hormonal profiles and smaller average body size, women tend to have slightly lower blood pressure than men. Oestrogen, one of our superstar hormones, plays a role in keeping our blood vessels relaxed and promoting healthy circulation. Our ideal blood pressure is a tad lower.
The Silent Threat: Hypertension in Women
Now that we understand the ‘why’ behind our different blood pressure numbers, let’s discuss why it matters. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is often called the “silent killer” for a reason. It doesn’t come with warning bells or whistles, but it can have serious consequences, especially for women.
Research shows that hypertension in women is closely linked to heart disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular issues. It’s a risk factor we can’t afford to ignore. So, even though our ideal range might be a bit lower, it’s a vital part of keeping our hearts strong and healthy.
Women in Menopause: A Unique Challenge
There’s a unique chapter in a woman’s life that deserves special attention – menopause. During this natural transition, oestrogen levels drop significantly, and with that drop comes a decrease in the heart health protection that oestrogen provides. The gender gap in heart health starts to narrow during menopause. Women become just as susceptible to heart issues as men, making it even more crucial for us to pay attention to our blood pressure.
Know Your Numbers
So, what’s a health-conscious woman to do? It’s simple: know your numbers! Regular blood pressure checks are a fantastic way to monitor your heart health. Make it a habit to get checked at your doctor’s office or invest in one of those handy blood pressure monitors for home use.
Understanding your personal baseline is critical. Just because the ‘norm’ might be 110/70 doesn’t mean it’s the perfect target for everyone. Your ideal blood pressure could be slightly higher or lower. Knowing your own numbers empowers you to take action when needed.
But it’s not all about the numbers on the screen; it’s about what you do to keep them in check. We need to talk about lifestyle. Regular exercise, a balanced diet, stress management strategies, and quality sleep are all your allies in maintaining healthy blood pressure.
Get moving, even if it’s just a daily walk or some yoga. Fill your plate with heart-healthy foods like fruits, veggies, and whole grains. Find ways to destress, whether it’s through mindfulness, meditation, or simply taking time for yourself. Prioritise good sleep – it’s when your body does essential repair work.
You know this stuff. Small changes to habit stack are the way to integrate them into your life.
In a world where the “norm” often leaves women out of the equation, we must stand up, speak out, and take control of our health. High blood pressure might have its own “norm,” but we refuse to let it define our destiny. By skilling ourselves, checking our numbers, and sharing this knowledge with others, we’re not just making a difference – we’re rewriting the script.
I love the belief that reclaiming our power over our health is an act of rebellion. It’s time to show the world that women aren’t just passengers in the journey of well-being; we’re the captains of our ships. So, let’s raise our sleeves, pick up those blood pressure monitors, and make “110/70” the new norm for women everywhere.
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