Statistically, women don’t appear to suffer from high blood pressure as often, or as early in life, as men do. However, women must contend with several causes of high blood pressure that are specific to women. For women, important time periods revolve around the pregnancy and menopause.Pregnancy Associated Hypertension
Blood pressure monitoring is an important part of good pre-natal care. Hypertension is believed to accompany up to 15% of pregnancies. Physicians classify four distinct types of hypertension in the pregnant woman.
Chronic hypertension – women who have documented high blood pressure before becoming pregnant or develop hypertension before 20 weeks of gestation
Gestational hypertension – high blood pressure develops after 20 weeks gestation with no associated loss of protein in the urine
Pre-eclampsia – hypertension diagnosed after 20 weeks gestation with loss of protein in the urine
Pre-eclampsia and chronic hypertension – the known hypertensive pregnant mother begins to show protein loss in addition to hypertension.
Blood pressure monitoring is an important part of good pre-natal care. Fortunately, the most common manifestation is transient gestational hypertension that typically resolves within 12 weeks of delivery. Monitoring of blood pressure during and after pregnancy is required to make sure the condition is not the early stages of pre-eclampsia or the beginning of chronic hypertension that will require treatment if blood pressure remains elevated beyond 12 weeks of delivering the baby.
This underscores the importance of good medical care prior to and during pregnancy. Women with chronic high blood pressure who take hypertension medication should consult with their doctor before getting pregnant. Some women, believing that hypertension medication may harm their child, stop taking their medicine upon learning that they are pregnant. Always consult with your doctor before making any changes to your hypertension medication.
Although men are more likely to develop hypertension earlier, and in greater overall numbers, after age 60 more women suffer from high blood pressure than men.
What is Pre-eclampsia?
Pre-eclampsia is actually a separate condition that involves the symptom of hypertension with the loss of protein in the urine. Pre-eclampsia is a potentially serious complication that can harm both mother and baby and involves a number of abnormal physiological changes in the mother.
Pre-eclampsia bears close monitoring since it can progress to full blown eclampsia. In addition to hypertension, the mother may experience headaches, blurred vision, abdominal pain, abnormal liver enzymes and abnormalities with blood clotting. These symptoms may occur prior to the appearance of protein loss in the urine, a symptom that helps confirm the diagnosis.
Interestingly, pre-eclampsia runs in families. Women whose mothers suffered from pre-eclampsia are three times more likely to develop symptoms associated with pre-eclampsia than other women. Men whose mothers had pre-eclampsia are twice as likely to have partners who exhibit symptoms of pre-eclampsia.
This raises the possibility that there is some type interaction between the mother and the unborn child (with genetic factors from the father) that contributes to pre-eclampsia. Environmental factors may also be involved.
One recent study showed that mothers who delivered their babies in August had a lower risk of pre-eclampsia than mothers who delivered in December or other cold, winter months.
Further research to understand pre-eclampsia and eclampsia is under way. Again, the best defense is early pre-natal care and open communication with your physician.
After menopause, changes in women’s hormones may make them more susceptible to hypertension. Researchers remain unsure just how much of an effect menopause has on hypertension, and how many of the cases of hypertension in older women are simply the natural results of aging. Regardless, monitoring of blood pressure is a recommended part of routine health care for postmenopausal women.