High Blood Pressure Harms Women's Sexual Function, Too

From the WebMD Archives

June 28, 2000 -- Whether it's a matter of not being "in the mood" or having difficulties with vaginal dryness or orgasm, women's sexual difficulties can stem from a variety of causes. Now it appears that a culprit long associated with men's erectile problems, high blood pressure, also can diminish women's sexual pleasure.

Although it has long been known that men with high blood pressure are more likely to have difficulty with erections, little medical research has been done in women. This is because in men, the question is more simple and focused: Can the man get and sustain an erection, or can't he?

With women, there are more questions and fewer ways to evaluate them: the level of desire, ability to remain excited, degree of vaginal lubrication, and frequency of orgasms, as well as overall satisfaction with the relationship.

One trend in researching women's sexual problems is to determine which conditions known to cause erectile problems in men, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, also create problems for women. Apparently, high blood pressure does not discriminate when it comes to sexual dysfunction, according to a study published in the June issue of the American Journal of Hypertension.

In this study of premenopausal women, those with high blood pressure were more likely to report a decrease in vaginal lubrication, less frequent orgasm, and more frequent pain with intercourse than were women with normal blood pressure, the authors write. But this doesn't mean that sexual difficulties are a tip-off to heart disease, co-author Carol Lewis, MSW, MPH, tells WebMD.

"So many medical conditions can affect sexual functioning, and sexual difficulties can also be unrelated to other aspects of a patient's health," she says. "However, patients need to report problems with sexual functioning, as they would any other aspect of their health."

Lewis and colleagues found a link connecting women's sexual problems to high blood pressure, whether or not the blood pressure was being treated, she tells WebMD. Therefore, women on blood pressure medication should report any changes "whether or not they think the change is drug-related," she says. Lewis is an epidemiologist and behavioral scientist at the Research Institute of Bassett Healthcare in Cooperstown, N.Y.

The investigators identified 224 women who were in heterosexual relationships who either had or did not have mild high blood pressure. The women completed a self-administered questionnaire and participated in a telephone interview.

There were no differences between medicated and unmedicated women, or by the type of medication used to treat their blood pressure. Current smokers were more likely to report problems with orgasms than were nonsmokers.

"Patients should be aware of sexual difficulties and open to discussing them with their doctors, especially if they have hypertension," Daniel C. Fisher, MD, tells WebMD. He is a cardiologist at New York University Medical Center in New York City.

"If your sex life is not what you want it to be, or even if you don't know what it should be, talk to your physician. Several health problems can affect your sexual function," Steven C. Kaplan, MD, tells WebMD. Kaplan is a professor of urology at Columbia University and researcher in sexual function at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center. He was not involved in the study.

Vital Information:

  • High blood pressure has been known to affect sexual function in men, but new research shows it also may cause sexual problems for women.
  • Women with high blood pressure are more likely to report a decrease in vaginal lubrication, less frequent orgasm, and more frequent pain during intercourse, compared to women with normal blood pressure.
  • Experts advise anyone with sexual problems to talk to their physicians, as it may be related to a variety of medical conditions.