High systolic blood pressure raises women's heart disease risk

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Middle age women with untreated high systolic blood pressure increase their chances of heart disease.

Compared to men, researchers say high systolic blood pressure - the top number - is a powerful predictor for stroke, heart attack and heart failure in middle-age and older women worldwide.

Jan A. Staessen, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Studies Coordinating Center in the Division of Cardiovascular Rehabilitation at the University of Leuven in Belgium. "We found that a 15 mm Hg increase in systolic blood pressure increased the risk of cardiovascular disease by 56 percent in women compared to 32 percent in men."

The three highest modifiable risk factors for heart disease in women and men are high systolic blood pressure, smoking and high cholesterol, that account for 85 percent cardiovascular disease risks. Among those, the researchers say high systolic blood pressure is the most important.


The findings, published in Hypertension: Journal of the American Heart Association are the result of a study of adults in Europe, Asia and South America who were followed for 11 years to assess risk factors for heart disease associated with systolic high blood pressure. The researchers were collecting data for the International Database on Ambulatory blood pressure in relation to Cardiovascular Outcomes (IDACO) study.

The participants were screened for cardiovascular risk factors using 24 hour ambulatory blood pressure monitoring devices and conventionally in the doctor's office.

"It is recognized that women live longer than men, but that older women usually report lower quality of life than men. By lowering systolic pressure by 15 mm Hg in hypertensive women, there would be an increased benefit in quality of life by the prevention of cardiovascular disease in about 40 percent in women compared to 20 percent in men," Staessen said, adding, "I was surprised by the study findings that highlight the missed opportunities for prevention of heart disease in older women."

The recommendation, based on the study findings, is that middle-age and older women and physicians get aggressive about controlling systolic high blood pressure. Without treatment, high systolic blood pressure is found to increase a woman's chances of heart disease significantly.

American Heart Association