What’s considered ‘high’ blood pressure may be different for women and men, new research reveals

New findings suggest healthy blood pressure numbers may differ for women and men, and a Northern Virginia cardiologist wants women to learn more about their specific situations and consult with their doctors.

“There’s really no ‘one size fits all’ approach to medicine. We really have to look at men and women differently,” said Dr. Rachel L. Berger of Virginia Heart.

Traditionally, 120 over 80 has been considered the normal upper limit for adult systolic blood pressure, but a study from the Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai evaluated data from more than 27,000 people and found that women may have a lower “normal” blood pressure range.

“While men had a correlation between high blood pressure and heart disease at a higher number, like 120 or 140, women had increased risk of heart disease even with a blood pressure as low as 100 or 110,” Berger said.

Women need to know their numbers.

“That means knowing what your blood pressure is and speaking to your physician and finding out if that’s an appropriate blood pressure for you,” Berger advised.

Berger finds studies, such as this one evaluating blood pressure and heart disease risk, very important because it may change how doctors tailor medical practices to different groups of people, particularly women.

“A lot of what we do in medicine is based on large studies that may not have traditionally included women,” Berger said. “And, women — as opposed to men — may have different goals.”

Do you know what your blood pressure is?

Many drugstores have free kiosks for checking blood pressure numbers. They also sell devices you can use at home. Berger said a cuff that wraps around the arm tends to be more reliable than one that connects to the wrist.

Accurate results are more likely if you’re seated and have relaxed for a few minutes. If you get a high reading, wait a few minutes and then check it again to see if the numbers come down.

Situations that can increase blood pressure include being stressed, anxious or having consumed a lot of caffeine. Berger recommends checking blood pressure at different times during the day to get a sense of how it changes.

Some tips to help keep numbers in check include:

  • Limit alcohol.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Lower salt intake.
  • Avoid processed foods.
  • Increase activity levels.
  • Try to exercise four or five days a week.

You can learn more about high blood pressure on the American Heart Association website.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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