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Blood Pressure Rising in U.S. Women

BP Numbers Have Been on the Decline Since the 1970s, but Downward Trend May Be Reversing in Women
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Feb. 11, 2008 -- Fewer American women have their blood pressure under control, and men aren't doing much better.

That's according to a new analysis showing that the proportion of American women with systolic blood pressure greater than 140 increased by an estimated 4.3% between the early 1990s and the early 2000s. For American men, it declined by an estimated 2%.

Those numbers may not sound like much of an increase, but blood pressure had been declining since the 1970s for both men and women. That downward trend now appears to be reversing in women and stagnating in men, the researchers write.

For the study, the researchers examined data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) and the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS). They focused on adults aged 30 and older.

They then compared actual systolic blood pressure with self-reported high blood pressure. If someone said they had high blood pressure, the researchers checked to see if the individual was taking medication for it. Blood pressure was considered uncontrolled if systolic blood pressure was 140 or higher.

Systolic blood pressure is the top number of a blood pressure reading. A blood pressure reading of less than 120/80 is considered normal.

Consistently high blood pressure makes the heart work harder. Controlling hypertension (high blood pressure) may help prevent heart attack, stroke, heart failure, kidney failure, and other health problems.

Blood pressure can be controlled through lifestyle changes and medication.

(Why do you think that women are more at risk for hypertension these days? Share your thoughts on WebMD's Hypertension: Support Group board.)

Women's Blood Pressure Rising Across the U.S.

No matter where they lived, women -- especially those 60 and older -- had higher uncontrolled hypertension than men. According to the researchers' estimates, it increased the most (6%) in Idaho and Oregon, and the least (3%) in Washington, D.C., and Mississippi.

For men, states with the highest rates of uncontrolled blood pressure were New Mexico and Louisiana; the best-performing states were Vermont and Indiana.

Washington, D.C., Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Texas, Georgia, and South Carolina had the highest overall rates of uncontrolled high blood pressure. In these states, 18% to 21% of men and 24% to 26% of women had uncontrolled high blood pressure.

Vermont, Minnesota, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Iowa, and Colorado had the lowest overall rates -- 15% to 16% of men and about 21% of women.

"The variation in increases should be interpreted with caution, Majid Ezzati, PhD, the study's lead researcher, says in a news release. "We can't tell from our study why this is happening. It could be that the states have done a better job in their public health efforts to reduce hypertension or it could be that rates are already so high that they didn't have much higher to go." Ezzati is an associate professor of international health at the Harvard School of Public Health.

The study appears in the Feb. 11 issue of the journal Circulation.

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