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High blood pressure more dangerous for women than men

Teresa Tanoos's picture
New study finds differences between hypertensive men and women

Women with high blood pressure are at a significantly greater risk than men for vascular disease and should therefore be treated differently, according to a new study published in the journal Therapeutic Advances in Cardiovascular Disease.

Researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina conducted the study, which is the first to consider gender as a factor when it comes to choosing from the various antihypertensive medications available for lowering blood pressure.

Approximately one-third of American adults have high blood pressure, which is often referred to as the "silent killer” because the condition can lead to heart disease and stroke – two of the top causes of death in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

However, researchers for the new study discovered that there are major differences between men and women as it pertains to the elements that cause hypertension (high blood pressure), with hypertensive women more likely to also have vascular disease.

This discovery is contrary to the school of thought doctors previously believed.

Lead study author Dr. Carlos Ferrario, a professor of surgery at Wake Forest Baptist Center, says that medical professionals traditionally believed that the cause of hypertension was the same for both men and women. As a result, both sexes historically received the same medical treatment for high blood pressure.

Accordingly, Dr. Ferrario and researchers set out to explore potential differences between hypertensive men and women.

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For the study, they examined 100 male and female patients who were 53 years and older and had high blood pressure that was not being treated. None of the patients had any other serious diseases, although the researchers conducted tests that found whether the heart or blood vessels were involved in raising their blood pressure.

As a result, the team found that the hypertensive women had 30 to 40 percent more vascular disease than did the hypertensive men, even though both sexes measured the same amount of high blood pressure.

The researchers also found other differences in the women’s cardiovascular systems, including the amount and kind of hormones that regulate blood pressure, which the researchers said is a factor that can have a major impact on the severity of heart disease.

"Our study findings suggest a need to better understand the female sex-specific underpinnings of the hypertensive processes to tailor optimal treatments for this vulnerable population," said Dr. Ferrario, who also mentioned that new protocols for treating hypertension in women are necessary.

Over the last three decades, the number of deaths in men due to cardiovascular disease has been significantly reduced, but not in women, reported the study authors.

Indeed, the number one cause of death in women is now heart disease.

Click here to learn more about how heart disease affects women differently than men.

SOURCE: Hemodynamic and hormonal patterns of untreated essential hypertension in men and women, Carlos M. Ferrario, et al.,Therapeutic Advances in Cardiovascular Disease, published online 26 November 2013.