High blood pressure is known as the "silent killer," as it often has no symptoms. And now, new research suggests that women with high blood pressure are at higher risk than their male counterparts of vascular disease, prompting researchers to recommend different treatments in women.
The study, published in the journal Therapeutic Advances in Cardiovascular Disease, was conducted by scientists at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 1 in 3 adults in the US have high blood pressure, putting them at risk for two leading causes of death - heart disease and stroke.
But in this latest study, researchers found "significant differences" in the mechanisms that cause high blood pressure in women, compared with men.
"This is the first study to consider sex as an element in the selection of antihypertensive agents or base the choice of a specific drug on the various factors accounting for the elevation in blood pressure," says Dr. Carlos Ferrario, lead author and professor of surgery at Wake Forest Baptist.
He notes that traditionally, the medical community "thought that high blood pressure was the same for both sexes," and therefore medical treatment was based on that idea.
Vascular disease risks higher in women
Women with high blood pressure have a significantly higher risk for vascular disease than men who have the same elevated blood pressure levels.
To look at potential differences, Dr. Ferrario and his team studied 100 men and women with untreated high blood pressure who were 53-years-old or more.
They did not have other major diseases, according to a range of specialized tests the researchers conducted, which showed whether the heart or blood vessels were involved in increasing blood pressure.
These tests measured forces involved in the circulation of blood, called hemodynamic characteristics, as well as hormonal profiles of the mechanisms behind the development of high blood pressure in both the men and women.
Compared with men who had the same level of high blood pressure, women had 30-40% more vascular disease, the researchers found.
They also observed physiologic differences in the cardiovascular systems of the women, which included levels and types of hormones involved in regulating blood pressure. The team says these factors can affect the severity and frequency of heart disease.
Commenting on their results, Dr. Ferrario says:
"Our study findings suggest a need to better understand the female sex-specific underpinnings of the hypertensive processes to tailor optimal treatments for this vulnerable population."
He suggests that new protocols are needed to treat high blood pressure in women, and the team says the condition may need to be treated earlier and more aggressively than in men.
Keeping blood pressure in check
According to the study, during the past 20 to 30 years, there has been a significant decline in cardiovascular disease-related mortality in men. However, the same statistic does not apply to women.
Heart disease is now the leading cause of death in women.
The CDC recommends certain lifestyle patterns for decreasing the risk for elevated blood pressure and heart disease. These include:
- Eating a healthy diet
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Staying physically active
- Not smoking, and
- Limiting alcohol use.
Medical News Today recently reported that members of the Eighth Joint National Committee released new guidelines for managing high blood pressure.