According to the CDC, around 44% of women experience high blood pressure. Blood pressure measures the pressure of your blood in your arteries when your heart beats. High blood pressure is indicated when the force pushing against your arteries is consistently too high. This is also called hypertension.
High blood pressure forces your heart to pump harder, leading to an increased risk of heart attack, stroke and other serious health problems. Women may present with more subtle symptoms of high blood pressure. Signs your pressure is high include: headaches, fatigue, shortness of breath and chest discomfort.
Sometimes dubbed the “silent killer”, high blood pressure can cause a woman to present with no symptoms at all. At times symptoms won't appear until the condition has become severe which makes diagnosing high blood pressure challenging. Some symptoms to keep an eye out for that everyone experiences is skin flushing, red spots in front of eyes and dizziness, along with the other symptoms listed above.
Headaches during a hypertensive crisis can occur as the result of blood pressure spiking to critical levels and increasing the pressure in the head. These headaches feel different from any regular headache or migraine. Pain is usually felt on both sides of the head that pulsates and increases in pain with physical movement. Traditional treatments like aspirin will not alleviate symptoms and it is best to go to a specialist in women’s health care immediately.
Fatigue is a symptom that women with high blood pressure experience but this is often due to other factors such as blood pressure medication, stress or poor quality of sleep.
Some women can experience pulmonary hypertension which is high blood pressure in the arteries of your lungs. These are the blood vessels that carry oxygen from your heart to your lungs. This can cause your arteries to become narrow, making your heart work harder to pump blood to your lungs. Shortness of breath during normal activity is usually one of the first symptoms experienced if this is happening.
Because the heart is working harder than normal to pump blood to the rest of the body, chest discomfort is sometimes a symptom women can experience. This can present as a squeezing in the chest or a feeling of fullness.
Some women experience high blood pressure during pregnancy. This is called preeclampsia. Sometimes the changes the body goes through during pregnancy can expose underlying hypertension or the mother can develop hypertension. This usually goes away after delivery but can cause increased risks to the mother and baby while she is carrying. If you do experience high blood pressure during pregnancy it’s important to talk to your women's health services team about appropriate treatments and ways to manage your high blood pressure.
There are many different avenues to prevent and manage high blood pressure. Regularly monitoring your blood pressure, maintaining or losing weight, eating healthy, limiting salt and alcohol, and regularly exercising are all ways to prevent hypertension. It is important to see a doctor regularly to monitor any changes in your health and catch high blood pressure before it gets worse.