Did you know that “hypertension” and high blood pressure, often used interchangeably, is really the same thing? Patients often misunderstand the truth about hypertension, thinking it is brought on by stress, anxiety or other emotional occurrences in one’s life. In reality, hypertension is a physiological dysfunction that researchers have found can turn into a chronic disease if left alone and untreated.
A simple blood pressure test, which usually happens as soon as you sit on the doctor’s table prior to a check-up, tells your physician what your systolic pressure is as the heart pumps blood out as well as the diastolic pressure while your heart relaxes and refills with blood. This is measured in mercury millimeters (mmHg). Making your weekly trip to the grocery store? Most pharmacies and groceries also offer reliable and free testing stations to make sure your blood pressure is what it should be based on normal blood pressure ranges. Normal blood pressure ranges are below 120 systolic and 80 diastolic. 120 to 139 systolic or 80 to 89 diastolic are deemed “pre-hypertension”, increasing your risk of hypertension without intervention. Above 140 and 90? Hypertension has occurred.
A recent study that appeared in the Therapeutic Advances in Cardiovascular Disease Journal found that 1 in 3 adults in the US have high blood pressure. Previous studies thought that high blood pressure and hypertension was the same whether the test subject was a man or a woman. This most recent study discovered that women, compared with men who had the same level of blood pressure, had increased vascular disease…in the whereabouts of 30-40%! One reason researchers believe hypertension in women can be more severe is the fact that there are physiologic differences in the cardiovascular system to include types of hormone levels that help regulate a woman’s blood pressure.
So, what can you do to stay healthy and prevent stroke and heart disease?
Because hypertension can build up for years without showing symptoms, it’s important to get regular check-ups. It’s a growing epidemic and researchers believe that diet and lifestyle changes need to be made to combat this deadly trend. Excessive alcohol, salt intake in the foods American’s eat as well as lack of exercise all leads to higher blood pressure and hypertension. Smoking is also detrimental to a healthy lifestyle and keeping your blood pressure under control. Women during the menopausal years will also see a rise in their blood pressure as a result of hormonal imbalances. In some circumstances, balancing the hormonal levels can normalize blood pressure. It also seems that younger adults are battling with high blood pressure, getting diagnosed as early as their 20s and 30s. Starting a wellness plan early, exercising and eating right, will decrease your chances of developing high blood pressure and vascular disease.
With the new findings, women need to make sure they are combining regular check-ups with regular physical activity. Many times, women are focused on taking care of the other family members, often neglecting their own health. Because hypertension can creep up silently and without warning symptoms, it’s important to take the new research “to heart”. Treatment of hypertension in women may require earlier diagnosis as well as more aggressive management than what was previously thought to be acceptable. Heart disease, unfortunately, is now the leading cause of death in women.
If you want to learn more about hypertension in women or have questions, Dr. Raman can help.
Dr. Raman is focused on holistic care and good health maintenance. Patients at her Concierge Medical Practice may benefit from bioidentical hormone therapy and a medically supervised weight management program to help ease the symptoms associated with progesterone and estrogen changes.
For women, the transition through perimenopause to menopause is a time of major hormonal fluctuation. The phases are often confused with each other, but true menopause is when a woman has not menstruated for a full year. Perimenopause is the phase leading to menopause and lasts an average of four years, although it can range from a few months to 10 years. A woman’s body typically begins to start the perimenopause process at age 35.
Perimenopause usually begins between the age of 35 and 50 when the ovaries begin to produce less estrogen. The imbalance of estrogen and progesterone often results in missed periods as well as side effects like hot flashes (the most common side effect of perimenopause), fatigue or low energy, difficulty sleeping, decreased libido and what some women call “PMS plus” —instances when pre-menstrual side effects worsen.
Like many transitions, perimenopause can be physically and emotionally challenging. There is no quick fix for troublesome side effects but many women find relief in lifestyle changes that improve overall health, including:
- Adding moderate exercise to your daily schedule
- Improving nutrition
- Avoiding smoking and alcohol
- Reducing stress
- Increasing water intake
- Practicing good sleep hygiene
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and bioidentical hormone therapy (BHT) provide side effect relief for some women. These therapies help balance hormone levels that vary throughout perimenopause. However, using hormones to control symptoms are NOT mandatory. The first question to ask is, “how much do my symptoms affect my daily life?” And if the answer is not at all, then no hormones are needed at that time. The fluctuations of the hormones are like the waves of the oceans. Symptoms are variable depending on lifestyle habits, stress during that particular period in your life, weight loss or weight gain, climate and weather changes and Mother Nature.
Even though menopause is the official ending of your menstrual periods, the hormone fluctuations that created side effects during perimenopause are still occurring, meaning that some perimenopause symptoms may remain (or return) and new side effects could appear during menopause.
Once women reach menopause they are at greater risk for developing osteoporosis, a disease that weakens bones. The post-menopausal drop in estrogen is directly related to loss of bone mass. Because there are no symptoms of bone loss, it’s often only after a bone-related injury that the presence of osteoporosis is discovered. Bone mineral density tests (BMD) are x-rays that measure bone density. Screening should begin if you have any of the following risk factors or at the cessation of the menstrual cycle. The following puts you at a higher risk of developing osteopenia or osteoporosis:
- Advanced age
- Your race – Caucasians and Asians have a higher prevalence of osteoporosis
- Family history of osteoporosis
- Body frame – people with petite frames can have a higher risk because they often have less bone mass to begin with.
Likewise, your doctor can offer osteoporosis treatment and prevention suggestions which may include:
- Eating foods high in calcium
- Calcium and vitamin D supplements
- Bone density medications
- Estrogen therapy
- Exercise, especially weight bearing exercise
- Medically Supervised Weight Management
- Avoiding smoking and alcohol
Health Care Options for Perimenopause and Menopause
Perhaps one of the most important things to know about perimenopause and menopause is that you aren’t alone. Approximately three million women transition to menopause every year and there are abundant health care options for both phases. Each woman will enter this phase in her life. During these transition years, remember that these symptoms are not forever. Your doctor can help get you through the storm, by teaching you to dance in the rain.
Certainly the scope of this topic is much more in depth and much more individualized than can be covered here. Knowing that the greatest years of your life don’t have to be the darkest days, lends hope for every woman to reclaim her body.
Dr. Raman’s Concierge Medical Practice is focused on caring for each person as a whole, not just a list of symptoms. Our office is committed to helping our patients stay well and maintain good health rather than treating patients only after they become ill.