A new study conducted by researchers from the European Society of Cardiology has found that many women may be receiving the wrong diagnosis for high blood pressure. According to their findings, roughly half of all women who present with high blood pressure symptoms are instead given treatment for menopause, which ultimately puts women at an increased risk for severe heart health issues.
“High blood pressure is called hypertension for men, but in women it is often mistakenly labeled as ‘stress’ or ‘menopausal symptoms,’” said researcher Angela Maas. “We know that blood pressure is treated less well in women compared to men, putting them at risk for atrial fibrillation, heart failure, and stroke -- which could have been avoided.”
Identifying women at risk
The researchers set out to provide resources for consumers and health care professionals on how to best identify and treat women who could be at the highest risk of high blood pressure in mid- or later-life. They explained that this starts with the understanding that men and women show different symptoms for the same condition, and it’s important to treat each patient on a case-by-case basis.
“A woman’s life provides clues that you need to start early with prevention,” said Maas. “We have to assess female patients differently to men, and not just ask about high cholesterol. This will enable us to classify middle-aged women as high-risk or lower risk for cardiovascular disease.”
In thinking about how to identify women at the highest risk of developing high blood pressure, the researchers recommend that health care professionals focus on women’s medical histories. Conditions that affect hormone levels throughout life can indicate whether or not women are at an increased risk of developing high blood pressure. Early menopause, high blood pressure during pregnancy (preeclampsia), and conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) are some of the biggest risk factors associated with high blood pressure for women.
“There are several phases of life when we can identify subgroups of high-risk women,” said Maas. “High blood pressure during pregnancy is a warning sign that hypertension may develop when a woman enters menopause and it is associated with dementia many decades later. If blood pressure is not addressed when women are in their 40s or 50s, they will have problems in their 70s when hypertension is more difficult to treat.”
Adopt healthy habits
For women at risk of developing high blood pressure in later life, the researchers recommend that healthy habits -- like following a healthy diet and adopting a regular exercise routine -- can make a significant difference. However, it’s also important for women and their doctors to look at the complete picture of their health history and work together to create the best course of treatment.
“Women can help their doctors prevent heart problems and make earlier diagnoses by mentioning issues like complicated pregnancies and early menopause and monitoring their own blood pressure,” Maas said.