If you’re a woman, doctors may have been using the wrong metric for your blood pressure (BP) all this time, according to a new study published recently.
The research looks at the first number, the systolic blood pressure, which indicates how much pressure your blood is creating against your artery walls when the heart beats. While less than 120 millimeters per mercury may be within the normal range for men, the target systolic blood pressure for women should be less than 110 millimeters per mercury, the study has found.
These results change the way we should look at what is considered normal blood pressure for women, said senior author Dr. Susan Cheng, director of the Institute for Research on Healthy Aging in Los Angeles, US.
“We’ve been thinking about what normal blood pressure is in people under the assumption that men and women are the same, when really they’re a lot more different than we realized,” said Ms. Cheng.
The study examined blood pressure measurements of just over 27,000 participants. The findings revealed that for women, levels above 110 millimeters per mercury were associated with risk for developing any type of cardiovascular disease including heart attack, heart failure and stroke, a difference from the report’s results for men.
The implications are far-reaching. Blood pressure is, as Ms. Cheng put it, “the single most major modifiable risk factor for all different types of cardiovascular disease.” While high blood pressure can bring a lot of health risks, it’s also something people can control through diet and exercise, especially when they are younger.
Other factors, like age, sex and genetics, aren’t “modifiable,” Ms. Cheng said. Considering the other modifiable factors such as high cholesterol and smoking, blood pressure is one “we really still should be doing a much better job of preventively controlling,” she added.
Commonly accepted blood pressure norms say that less than 120/80 millimeters per mercury is a healthy range for all adults. But Ms. Cheng said it’s not necessarily a good thing that the health care field doesn’t personalize this number based on a patient’s sex.
“Women need to really take their blood pressure seriously,” she said. “Even when it looks like it’s in the normal range for everybody, or really for men, even when it is under 120, if it’s above 110 it’s something to keep an eye on.”
What you can do
She recommends women monitor themselves when they are relaxed at home, by using a standard blood pressure cuff. After several at-home tests, it’ll be easier for them to find their true average, according to Ms. Cheng. She also recommends taking steps to lower blood pressure, like altering diet or lifestyle.