Women face greater risk of hypertension
While all children are born equal in terms of blood pressure, aging women tend to have higher blood pressure than their male counterparts, said John Kostis, a professor of medicine and pharmacology in the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.
When treating men in comparison to women for high blood pressure or hypertension, there are no differences in prevention, said Kostis, chair of Medical Service at the University Hospital. But taking medications responsibly is important.
“Do not decrease blood pressure medication or any other medications [early],” he said. “[If] the guidelines say you have to take [it] for 60 days, there’s no reason for someone … to take it for 61.”
Hypertension can be classified as a disease depending on how intense it is and what causes it, said Hemal Gada, an assistant professor in RWJMS.
Classifications for hypertension have changed over the last few years, he said. Recently published guidelines are more lenient on defining high blood pressure within an older population than in the past because increasing blood pressure is a side effect of aging naturally, he said.
“In most people, [blood pressure is] 110 systolic to 150 systolic, somewhere in that range,” he said. “There’s a bell curve there, so people with lower blood pressure might be perfectly fine and healthy.”
A person with a blood pressure of 90 over 50 could be okay if they were otherwise healthy, he said.
The term "systolic" refers to the top number in a blood pressure measurement, Gada said.
When the aortic valve is open, Gada said blood from the left ventricle is let out and the rate is transmitted to the body. Diastolic is the rate measured when the valve is closed.
A number can no longer easily define hypertension, he said. The cause of the number is more important.
If a person has an underlying condition causing their elevated rate, he said treatment is the next step.
Looking at “end-organ damage” helps to identify hypertension, he said.
A condition that results in higher blood pressure could impact a person’s kidneys, Gada said. This would elevate blood pressure even more, which would then further affect the kidneys.
Hypertension can impact many different organ systems, he said. The cause of hypertension depends on what systems are affected and how.
“There are definitely gender differences, and a lot of it has to do with what we experience as we age,” he said. “If a female takes a hormonal supplement, it would definitely affect blood pressure.”
Nicholas Sigismondi, a School of Engineering first-year, said he was surprised to hear that women are more susceptible to high blood pressure than men are.
Men tend to be less healthy in terms of weight, and he said he thought blood pressure should be related to obesity.
Determining high blood pressure ranges depend on the person, Kostis said. Numerous factors dictate how to treat hypertension and cardiovascular diseases.
Factors include details such as how frail the person is and lifestyle choices, he said. Potential negative reactions to medicines must also be considered when treating a patient.
A Danish study asked participants to identify the relative ages of patients by looking at their pictures, he said. All of the patients were 72, but those who smoked or engaged in other less healthy activities were all described as looking older than those who did not.
Doctors could more easily treat patients by paying attention to these factors and focusing on different responses to treatment, he said.
Doctors should also “take it easy” when prescribing medications, he said. Starting with a lower amount of medication and slowly increasing it would have a more beneficial impact than giving a patient a large dose of a medication immediately.
Other important factors to being healthy are eating nutritious foods and exercising, Sigismondi said. Taking good care of one's health would lessen the chance of hypertension and obesity in the future.
“I think it’s important for people to realize that as far as cardiovascular disease is concerned, hypertension is deemed a significant risk factor for coronary artery disease,” Gada said. “You have to treat risk factors.”