High Blood Pressure Symptoms in Women vs Men
Hypertension, commonly known as high blood pressure, affects millions of Americans, from children to older adults, men and women alike. High blood pressure can be caused by many factors, but mostly notably are diabetes, obesity, and excessive alcohol consumption. High blood pressure happens when the pressure your blood exerts against the artery walls is too high, leading to life-threatening conditions, such as heart disease and stroke. Because of the range of causes and symptoms of high blood pressure, men and women can experience hypertension differently. Learn more about these potential differences below.
What is Hypertension or High Blood Pressure?
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a condition where the pressure your blood puts on your artery walls is higher than normal ranges for a sustained period of time. Similar the pressure needed to send air through a tube, your blood needs pressure to travel through your arteries. Too much pressure and like a tire that pops, high blood pressure can lead to a number of health conditions including potentially life-threatening conditions like stroke. Illnesses or medications that narrow the arteries increase high blood pressure. This is also high blood pressure is so much more common with older adults whose arteries narrow as they age.
High blood pressure is more common in certain demographic groups: African-Americans, lower-income, residents of the southeastern US, individuals older than 55, and men. Certain traits can cause and increase your likelihood of having high blood pressure:
- Overweight: Being more than 15% of the healthy weight for your body mass increases your likelihood of getting high blood pressure significantly. Obese people develop high blood pressure two to six times more often than healthy individuals.
- Heavy alcohol drinkers: Those who drink more than two drinks a day have higher rates of high blood pressure than those who do not.
- Inactive: Being inactive contributes to obesity and high blood pressure.
- Smokers: Smoking negatively affects key body functions, including your ability to exercise and therefore also contributes to obesity and high blood pressure.
Additionally, a diet heavy in salt, regular use of decongestants or medications like ibuprofen or birth control as well as illegal drugs like cocaine all increase your chance of having high blood pressure.
Causes of High Blood Pressure in Women
There is a misconception that women rarely are affected by hypertension or high blood pressure, but women are just as likely as men and more likely than men after the age of 65. In particular, three periods of life can affect a woman’s blood pressure:
- Oral contraceptives: Taking birth control pills increases blood pressure for some women, especially for those who are already at risk of high blood pressure. If you have any of these traits, you may want to talk to your doctor about the potential of birth control pills increasing your blood pressure.
- Pregnancy: High blood pressure during pregnancy, or gestational hypertension, can happen, usually after the first 20 weeks and disappears after delivery. If it is not caught and treated, it can be damaging to the baby and mother, so a doctor should always be consulted during regular check-ups.
- Menopause: While not entirely clear, chances of women having high blood pressure after menopause increase considerably, even if they have had normal blood pressure their whole life.
High Blood Pressure Symptoms in Men vs Women
High blood pressure is extremely common in adults, and it is estimated as many as 30% have varying degrees of high blood pressure. Hypertension can be present for years without symptoms, but can still damage your heart and blood vessels. In fact, most people have no signs. Few people may have these symptoms or if your high blood pressure is severe enough you may have:
- Shortness of breath
- Confusion or fatigue
- Chest pain
- Vision problems
- Blood in urine
- Irregular heartbeat
- Pounding in your ears, neck, or chest
Any of these symptoms could be a sign of a hypertensive crisis leading to a stroke or heart attack. Even with no symptoms, untreated hypertension can also cause kidney failure, aneurysms, leg pain while walking, or eye problems. High blood pressure may be very serious, but it is extremely easy to detect. You should have semi-regular checkups to check for high blood pressure regardless of whether you have symptoms are not.
Plenty of additional symptoms can be associated with high blood pressure, but both are caused by another illness or condition making high blood pressure not the culprit. These include:
- Facial flushing: Facial flushing happens when facial blood vessels dilate causing blushing and feeling warm. There are numerous causes of facial flushing such as weather, spicy foods, or stress but it is not caused by high blood pressure.
- Hot flashes: Some individuals worry that hot flashes in men/high blood pressure are correlated, but similar to women, they can be caused by prescription medication, being overweight, anxiety, thyroid illnesses, and sudden hormone changes.
- Dizziness: Dizziness is not caused by high blood pressure, but it can be similarly caused by a number of blood pressure medications. It should not be ignored and you should contact a doctor immediately if you have sudden dizziness as it can be a warning sign for many illnesses, including having a stroke.
- Blood spots in eyes: Medically known as subconjunctival hemorrhage, this is more common for people with diabetes. Neither diabetes nor high blood pressure cause blood spots, but should be seen by a doctor immediately.
Diagnosing & Treating Your High Blood Pressure
While high blood pressure can have serious consequences if left untreated, it is very easy to detect. A doctor or nurse, pharmacy, or even at home monitor can measure your blood pressure with a device called a sphygmomanometer. This device consists of a dial, pump, valve, arm cuff, and stethoscope. The number is made up of two numbers: systolic blood pressure or the maximum pressure during heartbeats and diastolic blood pressure or the lowest pressure between two heartbeats. Written in millimeters of mercury, normal guidelines are 120/80 with hypertension being blood pressure greater than 140/90. Blood pressure can vary based on many factors, such as demographic factors or even stress. Usually three readings of hypertension are required for a diagnosis. In addition, a doctor will ask about your medical history and potential risk factors we well as conducting a physical exam or requesting additional tests.
Two main treatments for high blood pressure are recommended: lifestyle changes and drug therapy. Lifestyle changes that will help bring down your high blood pressure:
- Losing weight
- Eating healthy
- Quitting smoking
- Exercising regularly
- Limiting alcohol intake
- Reducing sodium intake
These lifestyle changes can not only lower blood pressure, but if you are taking high blood pressure drugs, then they can help improve their effectiveness. If lifestyle changes are not enough or if the high blood pressure is severe enough, drug therapy can be life-saving. The major types of drug therapy for treating hypertension include:
- Angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs)
- Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors
- Calcium channel blockers
- Renin inhibitors
- Combination medications
Diuretics are usually the first recommended therapy, but they are not always recommended for everyone based on their medical history. ACE inhibitors are more common for those with diabetes and sometimes multiple drugs may be assigned. Talk to a medical professional to learn more about your options.
Once starting the drug therapy, you should have monthly appointments with your doctor to check on how you are moving towards your goal and have your doctor check you for potential side effects, such as kidney damage. After successfully lowering your blood pressure, you should still continue to have appointments with your doctor at least every three to six months.
Side Effects of Hypertension in Men vs Women
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is often called the “silent” killer, because it may have no signs or symptoms. Untreated high blood pressure can cause a number of diseases and even be life threatening. The most common severe complications of untreated hypertension are:
- Heart disease: The number one cause of death from high blood pressure is hypertensive heart disease. This includes a group of conditions like heart failure, heart attack, and left ventricular hypertrophy. This results from high blood pressure thickening the heart muscles, and then those muscles becoming less effective.
- Stroke: A stroke is four to six times more likely for individuals with high blood pressure. Sometimes called a brain attack, a stroke happens when blood flow to parts of the brain are cut off, causing brain cells to be deprived of glucose and oxygen and result in permanent brain damage. Atherosclerosis, caused by untreated, long-term hypertension, happens when there is hardening of large arteries. This can block smaller blood vessels to the brain resulting in stroke.
- Kidney disease: High blood pressure can damage blood vessels and filters that lead to the kidney. In earlier stages this causes kidney disease or renal disease, and in later stages can cause total kidney failure, where dialysis or kidney transplants are necessary.
- Eye disease: Along with the problems listed above, hypertension can cause eye disease by damaging the retina blood vessels, or where the eye puts images in focus. Called hypertensive retinopathy, the damage to your vision can be very serious.
For men and women, different complications can come from high blood pressure. For women, high blood pressure during pregnancy can cause preeclampsia, a severe form of gestational hypertension. Symptoms of preeclampsia include abdominal pain, headaches, vision changes, and swelling and should be treated by a doctor immediately. Preeclampsia can cause serious damage to the baby and mother by harming the placenta, damaging key organs of the mother like the kidneys, or resulting in fetal complications including low birth weight or even stillbirth. The only cure for preeclampsia is delivering the baby before complications occur.
For men, hypertension can cause erectile dysfunction, so much so that a majority of men over 40 who have high blood pressure also have erectile dysfunction. Blood flow into the penis is what allows for the penis to become erect, but high blood pressure means that the blood vessels cannot dilate properly to allow that blood flow. In addition, high blood pressure can be correlated with low testosterone levels needed for sexual arousal and medications that treat high blood pressure can cause erectile dysfunction. While these problems usually go away after the blood pressure is lowered, it is important to contact a doctor to discuss any potential complications.
When to Contact a Doctor
If you have any of the symptoms described, you should go see a doctor. In general, if you have any of the major risk factors, you should be tested for high blood pressure regularly.
Additionally, you should call 911 immediately if you have any of the following symptoms as they can be a sign of untreated high blood pressure resulting in a hypertensive emergency:
- Blurred vision or headache
- Numbness on one side of the body
- Increasing shortness of breath, chest pain, or confusion
Should any of these non-emergency symptoms arise or if you suspect you may be at risk for high blood pressure, it is very important to get tested. Even if you have no symptoms as do the vast majority of those with hypertension, you should be getting check-ups regularly. You can make an appointment with your primary care physician or see an online doctor in order to be tested.