Many people mistakenly believe that high blood pressure, also called hypertension, is more common among men. The truth is nearly half of all adults with high blood pressure are women. Beginning at age 65, after the onset of menopause, women are actually more likely to have this disease than men.
While HBP isn't directly related to gender, certain woman's issues can increase your risk. Discover how high blood pressure relates to your stage in life.
Blood pressure during childbearing years
- Do birth control pills cause high blood pressure?
Medical researchers have found that birth control pills increase blood pressure in some women. It's more likely to occur if you're overweight, have had high blood pressure during pregnancy, have a family history of HBP or have mild kidney disease. The combination of birth control pills and cigarette use may be especially dangerous for some women.
Before you begin taking oral contraceptives:
- Talk to your doctor about the risks.
- Make sure your doctor measures and records your blood pressure before prescribing the pill.
- Have your blood pressure checked every six months or so.
- Is it safe to get pregnant if my blood pressure is high?
By following the recommendations of your doctor and carefully managing your blood pressure, you can help ensure a normal pregnancy and a healthy baby. However, high blood pressure can be dangerous for both mother and baby. If you are taking HBP medication and want to become pregnant, first consult your doctor. Also keep in mind that if you already have high blood pressure, pregnancy could make it more severe.
- Is it safe to get pregnant if I am taking ACE inhibitors or ARBs for high blood pressure?
If you're taking an ACE inhibitor or an ARB and think you might be pregnant, see your doctor immediately. These drugs have been shown to be dangerous to mother and baby alike during pregnancy. They can cause low blood pressure, severe kidney failure, dangerously high potassium levels and even death of the newborn.
- As a woman with high blood pressure, what precautions should I take if I want to become pregnant?
Each pregnancy is different, and your doctor will give you recommendations for your situation. Most women with high blood pressure should follow these precautions before becoming pregnant.
- Get your blood pressure under control.
- Watch your diet and limit salt and sodium.
- Be active and exercise. Regular physical activity will help you control your blood pressure and increase your physical condition.
- If you're overweight, lose weight to help you have a safer pregnancy and a healthier baby.
- Stop using tobacco and alcohol.
- If you're on medication for high blood pressure (or any other condition), discuss all of your medications, including over-the-counter drugs and supplements, with all of your doctors. Never stop taking a prescription medication without first consulting the doctor who prescribed it.
- Why is it so important to control my blood pressure during pregnancy?
Failing to do so could result in:
- Harm to the mother's kidneys and other organs
- Low birth weight and early delivery of the infant
- I'm pregnant, and I've never had high blood pressure before, but I do now. Will I always have it?
Some women who have never had HBP develop it while they are pregnant. This condition is known as Pregnancy Induced Hypertension (PIH). It usually disappears after delivery. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), high blood pressure affects 6-8 percent of all pregnancies in the United States. Almost 70 percent of these cases are in first-time pregnancies. If the mother is not treated, HBP is dangerous to both the mother and baby. That's why doctors usually keep a close watch on a woman's blood pressure during pregnancy.
PIH is closely related to preeclampsia, or toxemia of pregnancy. This disorder can endanger the lives of both mother and child. Specifically, it can:
- Harm the placenta
- Damage the mother's kidneys, liver and brain
- Cause fetal complications such as low birth weight, premature birth and stillbirth
- My prenatal clinic says I have preeclampsia because my urine has protein in it and my blood pressure is high. Are my baby and I in danger?
Preeclampsia is a condition that typically begins after the 20th week of pregnancy and may continue six weeks after delivery. It's characterized by high blood pressure and elevated protein in the urine, which is caused by kidney problems. This kind of hypertension usually disappears after delivery. If it doesn't, it should be controlled with careful, long-term treatment as with all other types of HBP.
You are at a higher risk for developing preeclampsia if you:
- Have high blood pressure before becoming pregnant
- Have developed high blood pressure or preeclampsia in a previous pregnancy
- Are obese prior to pregnancy
- Are under age 20 or over age 40
- Are pregnant with more than one baby
- Have diabetes, kidney disease, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus or scleroderma
Not all women have noticeable symptoms of preeclampsia. When symptoms do occur, they can include:
- Sudden weight gain
- Changes in vision
- How can I be sure that I won't get pregnancy induced hypertension or preeclampsia?
There is no proven way to prevent PIH or preeclampsia and no test that will predict or diagnose these conditions. Only regular visits to your doctor will ensure that you're having a safe pregnancy. Your doctor will track your blood pressure and check the level of protein in your urine. For a healthy pregnancy, you should:
- Get early and regular care from your doctor. Don't miss appointments.
- Follow all of your doctor's recommendations.
- Do what you can to help manage your blood pressure, including limiting sodium intake and getting regular physical activity.
Remember, even with HBP and preeclampsia, you can have a successful pregnancy if you follow this advice.
Am I at greater risk for high blood pressure after menopause?
As a woman grows older, her chance of having high blood pressure becomes greater than a man's. You may have had normal blood pressure most of your life, but after menopause your chances of developing HBP increase considerably.
This content was last reviewed on 04/04/2012.