When it comes to hypertension, commonly known as high blood pressure, one should be aware of some of the differences between men and women.
High blood pressure is more common in men as compared to women before the age of 50 years old. However, after the age of 55 years old, high blood pressure is more common among women than men.
High blood pressure complications include heart attacks and stroke. Studies have shown that such complications are significantly lower in women, especially in women who have not undergone menopause. Between these two complications, the reduction in heart attacks is much more prominent.
When comparing men and women between 40 and 70 years old with similar degrees of high blood pressure, women have lower complication risks than men. Therefore, to have similar damage to organs and blood vessels in women, a greater blood pressure load is required.
Therefore, it is important for regular blood pressure screening, especially for young and middle-aged men (20s to early 40s) and post-menopause women.
"Some people believe that high blood pressure is an old man's disease. While older people have a greater risk of this, younger men in their 30s and 40s often suffer from the disease without knowing it," says Dr Ian Phoon, family physician at SingHealth Polyclinics in Pasir Ris.
This is because high blood pressure is a "silent killer" with no obvious symptoms.
"Despite gender differences in the age-related risk of high blood pressure, both men and women are diagnosed and treated in the same way", adds Dr Phoon.
What is high blood pressure?
Blood pressure measures how hard the heart has to work to pump blood through the arteries. Blood pressure is recorded as an upper (systolic) reading over a lower (diastolic) reading.
The systolic reading is the pressure in the arteries (measured in millimeters of mercury, or mm Hg) when the heart squeezes. The diastolic reading is the pressure when the heart relaxes. A person with a blood pressure reading of 140/90 mm Hg or higher is said to have high blood pressure.
As long as either the systolic and/or the diastolic pressures are high, the person has high blood pressure.
Having untreated high blood pressure can double your risk of getting a stroke and heart attack, and increase your chance of kidney failure.
Related video: Why is high blood pressure a "silent killer"?
Why do younger men develop high blood pressure?
Obesity, work stress, physical inactivity, excessive alcohol consumption (more than 2 drinks per day) and high salt intake are likely causes for the rise in high blood pressure in men under age 45.
Younger men with high blood pressure may have metabolic syndrome (abdominal obesity) which is linked to heart diseases and diabetes.
What causes older women to develop high blood pressure?
The reasons for gender differences in blood pressure are not known and several laboratories are still researching. Some studies demonstrated that women tend to have higher heart pump output and lower blood vessel resistance, thereby minimising blood vessel injury.
Younger women in their 20s to early 40s may be protected from high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease (e.g. heart attacks, strokes) by oestrogen (a female sex hormone). However, this is not yet proven as it is not evident that blood pressure changes are linked to levels of endogenous sex hormones.
The women's blood pressure can escalate when oestrogen levels fall after menopause (around the age of 50). By the age of 70, about 80 to 90 per cent of women are likely to have developed high blood pressure.
Similar to men, obesity, physical inactivity, excessive alcohol intake and a high salt diet increase the risk of high blood pressure in women. In addition, contraceptive pills may further compound a woman's high blood pressure risk. Thus, women on the "pill" should have their blood pressure checked regularly.
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Tips to control high blood pressure
- Maintain a healthy weight
The Body Mass Index (BMI) is a common measurement for your weight and height ratio. If your Body Mass Index (BMI) is between 23 and 27.4, you have a moderate risk of developing high blood pressure and heart disease. Your risk becomes very high if your BMI is 27.5 and above. Normalise your blood pressure by keeping your BMI between 18.5 and 22.9 (the healthy weight range for Asians).
Use the following formula to calculate your BMI:
Body Weight (kg) / [Height (m)]2
- Reduce your daily sodium (salt) intake
Too much sodium in your diet can lead to high blood pressure. Keep your sodium intake under 2,000mg per day (about a teaspoon of salt). Avoid adding salt to your food as sodium is already found in most processed foods. Soya, or chili sauce, ketchup, soup stock, salted peanuts, potato chips, bacon, ham and sausages are some examples of foods containing sodium.
Related article: How to make healthy choices at the food court
- Change your diet
Reduce your food intake which is high in cholesterol and saturated fats (e.g. fat meats, full cream milk, egg yolks, internal organs, and deep fried foods). High cholesterol can lead to the hardening of your arteries. Increase your consumption of fruits, vegetables and whole grains (such as wholemeal bread and brown rice).
- Increase your physical activity
People who lead sedentary lifestyles are likely to become overweight or obese and this is one of the factors that increase the high blood pressure risk. Stay physically active by engaging in an exercise you like, such as walking, jogging and cycling, for about 150 minutes per week.
- Cut down on alcohol
Just two or more alcoholic drinks in one sitting are enough to temporarily increase your blood pressure. If you must drink, limit yourself to one glass.
Related article: Beer and wine — how healthy are they?
- Monitor your blood pressure
If you already have high blood pressure, you can get a digital blood pressure set to monitor your pressure. High blood pressure has no symptoms. Thus the only way of knowing if your pressure is under control is to check it regularly and record the readings down on a chart. Show the recordings to your doctor.
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