Blood pressure is the force of the blood pushing against the artery walls. Each heartbeat generates this force as it pumps blood from the heart into the blood vessels. The size and elasticity of the artery walls also affects blood pressure. Each time the heart beats–that is, each time the heart contracts and relaxes–pressure is created inside the arteries. With high blood pressure, it’s harder for the blood to flow through the arteries, causing the heart to pump harder to circulate the blood.
Causes of Hypertension
There are many causes of hypertension, but a few conditions are known to contribute greatly to the risks of hypertension, and all of these conditions are controllable through lifestyle changes. Being overweight, having an excessive sodium intake, and lack of exercise and physical activity can all increase blood pressure.
Risk Factors of Hypertension
Nearly one-third of all Americans have high blood pressure, but for women, it is particularly prevalent if you:
- Have diabetes, gout, or kidney disease
- Are African American
- Are in your middle to later adult years—more women have high blood pressure after menopause than men of the same age
- Are 60 years of age or older
- Have a family history of hypertension
- Are overweight or obese
- Drink high amounts of alcohol
- Take oral contraceptives—according to the American Heart Association, women who take oral contraceptives are 2-3 times more likely to have hypertension
Symptoms of Hypertension
It’s possible for hypertension to go unrecognized and unnoticed, and this is often the case. However, general symptoms of hypertension could include:
- Blurred vision
- Nausea and vomiting
- Chest pain and shortness of breath
Blood pressure measurements are taken by a medical provider, usually a nurse, with a blood pressure cuff and a stethoscope. You cannot take your own blood pressure measurements unless you use an electronic blood pressure monitoring device.
When you are having your blood pressure measured, two numbers are recorded. The top number, or systolic pressure, refers to the pressure inside the artery when the heart contracts and pumps blood through the body. The bottom number, or diastolic pressure, refers to the pressure inside the artery when the heart is at rest and is filling with blood. Both the systolic and diastolic pressures are recorded as “mm Hg” (millimeters of mercury). This recording represents how high the mercury column is raised by the pressure of the blood.
You can take steps to control your high blood pressure naturally by:
- Choosing foods that are low in sodium or salt, low in calories and fat, and high in starch and fiber
- Maintaining a healthy weight, or losing weight if you are overweight
- Limiting serving sizes
- Increasing physical activity
- Reducing or omitting alcoholic beverages
Women with hypertension should routinely have their blood pressure checked and be under the care of a physician, who could possibly prescribe certain daily medication (like blood pressure drugs) in order to control hypertension.
Racial Differences Among Women
Instances of hypertension do not only vary across gender. Race is an important factor in determining a risk for hypertension.
Caucasian women: The American Heart Association reports that 31.1% of non-Hispanic white women over 20 have hypertension.
African-American women: Blood pressure does not only tend to be higher among African American women, but hypertension often begins at an earlier age and can be more serious. African American women are more likely to have a stroke, heart disease or kidney failure as a result of their high blood pressure than their Caucasian counterparts. According to the American Heart Association, 44.8% of African American women over 20 have hypertension.
Asian-American women: A National Health Survey conducted by the US Public Health Service determined that on average 8.4% of Asian American Pacific Islanders have hypertension. However, within subgroups, it is estimated that about 14% of Vietnamese American women, 10% of Filipino American women, and 34% of elderly Chinese American women have hypertension.
Hispanic-American women: Studies show that Hispanic American women have higher rates than Caucasian women, but lower rates than African American women. The American Heart Association reports that about 31.6% of Mexican American women over 20 have hypertension.
Nutrition and Prevention
Reference these links for information on how to prevent heart disease and how to live a healthy lifestyle.
- Lifestyle Changes
- Healthy Diet
- Reduce Stress
- Stop Smoking
- Healthy Cholesterol Levels
- Reduce Sodium
Date Last Modified: January 21, 2011
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