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Wellbeing



Hypertension in Women:
what causes high blood pressure?

Exploring the risks specifically for women

Symptoms of high blood pressure, or hypertension, are often hard to spot as there are no obvious indicators. However, if left untreated, this condition could lead to serious health complications, such as the risk of stroke or heart attack.

It’s a common misconception that hypertension affects men more than women, however, there are a number of points during a woman’s life when the chances of developing high blood pressure increase. For example, when using contraception, during pregnancy and also during the menopause, women can experience changes in their bodies that may lead to hypertension.

Birth control

Research has found that oral contraceptives can increase blood pressure in some women. This is particularly true if you are overweight or have previously suffered with hypertension. Therefore, women with these risk factors should bear this in mind when considering their contraceptive options.

Ladies hands holding a pack of contraceptive pills

Pregnancy

Some women, who have never previously suffered with hypertension, may develop high blood pressure during pregnancy. Usually occurring after 20 weeks of pregnancy, this is known as gestational hypertension and will often disappear again after delivery of the baby. Doctors need to keep a close check on mothers who experience gestational hypertension as it can pose a risk to both mother and baby. For peace of mind mothers can also keep track of their own blood pressure at home with an easy to use wrist or arm monitor.

Pregnant lady in stripy top cradling her bump outdoors on a spring day

Menopause

Levels of the female hormone oestrogen drop significantly during the menopause, which causes the heart and blood vessels to become less elastic. These changes can lead to a rise in blood pressure, which in turn can put added strain on the heart.

Senior woman relaxing with husband by the beach

The only real way to know if you have high blood pressure is through regular checks both at home with an easy to use blood pressure monitor or during routine GP appointments. However, women should not feel powerless as there are a number of things that can be done to help prevent or to lower blood pressure.

1. Regular Exercise

Although people with high blood pressure should be careful not to do exercise that is too intense, with the advice of their doctor it can be beneficial to try to do moderate exercise every day. The British Heart Foundation advises people to take small steps to build up to about 150 minutes of exercise per week. Why not try something new and manageable such as power walking? Faya Nilsson of FitnessOnToast says that power walks enable the rich circulation of oxygen through the body as you exercise the cardiovascular system.

Women’s feet from above as she ties her trainer shoe laces

2. Diet

Aim for a healthy and balanced diet rich in fruit and vegetables. Ensure you are getting a good variety of foods and the right proportions of each of the different food groups. Limit treats high in sugar and fat and if you want a quick and easy snack, why not try crunchy apple crisps, a delicious banana and berry smoothie or creamy avocado dip?

Lady eating a healthy green, leafy salad sat at a table with vegetables and oils on it

3. Healthy weight

Being overweight is a major cause of high blood pressure. Losing a few pounds, as little as 5% of body weight, can help get blood pressure to normal levels. Following a healthy diet and taking regular exercise is the best way to keep a healthy weight long-term.

Lady measuring her waist wearing blue shorts and a short white top

4. Stress

The chemicals your body produces in response to stress can speed up your heart rate, in turn tightening the blood vessels. Take time out to relax each day with some gentle exercise or meditation, and try to avoid letting things build up to keep your blood pressure stable.

Lady sitting at her office desk with her hands in her head

5. Sleep

Sleep is the body’s natural way of reducing excess stress hormones so a lack of sleep can have similar effects on blood pressure as stress. Ensuring you get plenty of uninterrupted sleep each night is key to helping keep hypertension at bay. Practice a good bedtime routine and take steps to make your bedroom a haven for sleep.

Lady sleeping peacefully in a bed with white bedding

Although there may be points during the different stages of a woman’s life that can trigger hypertension, women can feel empowered to take positive action. Regular monitoring along with some simple lifestyle changes and guidance from the GP will allow women to effectively manage their blood pressure. Eating well, getting moving and staying relaxed will help you not only feel lead to a happier and healthier life in the immediate but you’ll also benefit from the positive effects on your long-term health.