What is high blood pressure?

Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the inside lining of the arteries. High blood pressure, or hypertension, occurs when that force increases and stays higher than normal for a period. This condition can damage the blood vessels, heart, brain, and other organs. About 1 in 3 Americans has high blood pressure.

Hypertension is often considered a men’s health problem, but that’s a myth. Men and women in their 40s, 50s, and 60s have a similar level of risk for developing high blood pressure. But after the onset of menopause, women actually face higher risks than men of developing high blood pressure. Prior to age 45, men are slightly more likely to develop high blood pressure, but certain female health issues can change these odds.

Blood pressure can increase without any noticeable symptoms. You can have high blood pressure and experience no obvious symptoms until you experience a stroke or heart attack.

In some people, severe high blood pressure can result in nosebleeds, headaches, or dizziness. Because hypertension can sneak up on you, it’s especially important to monitor your blood pressure regularly.

Without proper diagnosis, you may not know that your blood pressure is increasing. Uncontrolled high blood pressure can lead to serious health problems. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for stroke and kidney failure. The damage to blood vessels that occurs due to chronic high blood pressure can also contribute to heart attacks. If you’re pregnant, high blood pressure can be especially dangerous for both you and your baby.

The best way to find out if you have hypertension is by checking your blood pressure. This can be done at the doctor’s office, at home with a blood pressure monitor, or even by using a public blood pressure monitor, such as those found in shopping malls and pharmacies.

You should know your usual blood pressure. If you see a significant increase in this number the next time your blood pressure is checked, you should seek further evaluation from your healthcare provider.

Some women who take birth control pills may notice a slight elevation in blood pressure. However, this usually occurs in women who have experienced high blood pressure previously, are overweight, or have a family history of hypertension. If you’re pregnant, your blood pressure may rise, so regular checkups and monitoring are recommended.

Both women who have preexisting high blood pressure and women who’ve never had high blood pressure may experience pregnancy-induced hypertension, which is related to the more serious condition called preeclampsia.

Preeclampsia is a condition that affects about 5 to 8 percent of pregnant women. In the women it affects, it usually develops after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Rarely, this condition can occur earlier in pregnancy or even postpartum. The symptoms include high blood pressure, headaches, possible liver or kidney problems, and sometimes sudden weight gain and swelling.

Preeclampsia is a serious condition, contributing to about 13 percent of all maternal deaths worldwide. It’s usually a manageable complication, however. It typically disappears within two months after the baby is born. The following groups of females are most at risk for preeclampsia:

  • teenagers
  • women in their 40s
  • females who’ve had multiple pregnancies
  • females who are obese
  • females who have a history of hypertension or kidney problems

Expert advice for preventing high blood pressure is the same for women and men:

  • Exercise about 30 to 45 minutes per day, five days a week.
  • Eat a diet that’s moderate in calories and low in saturated fats.
  • Stay current with your doctors’ appointments.

Talk to your doctor about your risk for high blood pressure. Your doctor can let you know the best ways to keep your blood pressure in the normal range and your heart healthy.