Health Watch: Women and Hypertension

Dr. Brett Parkinson explains the theory behind the new numbers.


When it comes to their health, women just are not taking care of themselves the way they should. A Harvard University team found rates of uncontrolled high blood pressure were dropping for men and women – until the 1990’s. While hypertension rates for men leveled off, it’s four to seven percent higher for women in every say. Much of it, experts say, has to do with diet – especially salt.

Definition of Blood Pressure: The force exerted against the walls of the arteries–blood vessels that carry blood from the heart to the rest of the body–when the heart beats (systolic pressure) and when the heart is at rest (diastolic pressure).

Recommended Blood Pressure Levels

Pressure Category
(mm Hg)
(mm Hg)
Normal less
than 120
than 80
Prehypertension 120-139 80-89
140-159 90-99
or higher
or higher

Source: American Heart Association

Misconceptions about High Blood Pressure

* Blood pressure usually presents with symptoms

* Blood pressure can be cured with proper treatment

* A single high reading requires treatment

* Because it is so rare in children, there is no need to check it

* Calm, relaxed people rarely have the disease

* The underlying cause can be determined in most cases:

Why is hypertension called the “Silent Killer”?
Hypertension is called the Silent Killer because it often exists, and can cause significant damage, without any symptoms. If you don’t get your blood pressure checked, just because you feel “normal,” you may have already experienced irreversible damage to your heart, brain or kidneys. Damage that may lead to an early death.

What kind of damage does high blood pressure to the body?

It leads to accelerated hardening and loss of elasticity of the arteries, causing narrowing. If the arteries are narrow, it is harder for the blood to flow through them, and the pressure inside them increases. Then high blood pressure occurs. Damaged and narrowed arteries in the brain can lead to strokes; and in the heart to heart attacks. High blood pressure also increases workload of the heart, causing it to enlarge and become less efficient. This can lead to heart failure, can cause kidney failure and if the vessels to the eye are damaged, blindness can occur

Who Should be tested for high blood pressure?

Everyone, even children. In fact, the American Heart Association recommends that all children be tested every year. Of course, adults should be tested annually as well.

How is blood pressure checked?

With a medical instrument called a sphygmomanometer. It consists of a rubber cuff that wraps around the upper arm. When it is inflated, it compresses a large artery in the arm, momentarily stopping the blood flow. As the cuff is deflated, blood starts to once again pulse through the artery, making a sound. The sound, which is the sound of the heart, continues until the pressure in the artery exceeds that in the cuff. The person taking the blood pressure watches a gauge. The systolic pressure (the higher number) is the first sound (pressure of blood flow when the heart beats); and the diastolic pressure (pressure between heart beats) is the last sound.

Where can blood pressure be checked?

In a doctor’s office, hospital clinic, nurse’s office, school, company clinic or even a health fair.

Can my blood pressure vary?

Absolutely. When you’re nervous or excited, it can be falsely elevated. That’s why a single high reading doesn’t necessarily mean you have hypertension. For that reason, doctors usually take a series of readings before starting treatment.

How is high blood pressure treated?
If you have a borderline reading (120-139/80-89), you probably won’t need medication. Your doctor will most likely prescribe lifestyle changes: reduction in salt intake, weight loss if appropriate and regular exercise. On the other hand, if your pressure is greater than 140/90, you will probably begin drug therapy. And lifestyle changes!

How to Control Blood Pressure:

• Limit intake of salt (sodium chloride). Healthy American adults should reduce sodium intake to no more than 2300 milligrams/day. That is about a teaspoon.

• Choose fresh, frozen or canned food items without added salts

• Select fat-free (skim) or low-fat milk; low-sodium, low-fat cheese; and low-fat yogurt

• Use spices and herbs, rather than salt, to enhance food flavor

• Avoid adding salt and canned vegetables to homemade dishes

• Eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables

• Avoid salted or preserved meats

• Limit salted snack foods

• Consume foods rich in potassium

• Limit alcohol consumption: No more than two drinks/day for men and one for women. (One drink is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine and 1.5 ounces of 80 proof distilled spirits.)

• Emphasize whole grains, poultry, fish and nuts in your diet

For a list of the sodium intake of common foods visit the following link:



Mountain Medical Physician Specialists is a partnership of over 50 board-certified radiology and vascular professionals providing patients along the Northern Wasatch Front with the latest imaging and vascular care available. Mountain Medical professionals specialize in vascular surgery, vascular and interventional radiology, CT, neuroradiology, orthopedic imaging, MRI, women’s imaging, ultrasound, nuclear medicine and body imaging. For more information visit

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