May 19, 2006 -- It is well known that men with high blood pressurehigh blood pressure are at a greater risk of developing sexual dysfunction and now new research shows that the same holds for women.
The new findings were presented Friday at the 21st Annual Scientific Meeting of the American Society of Hypertension (ASH 2006) in New York City.
In the study of 417 sexually active women aged 31 to 60, women with high blood pressure were twice as likely to experience sexual dysfunction compared with their counterparts who had normal blood pressure. What’s more, advancing age and duration of high blood pressure further increased the risk of sexual dysfunction in women.
“These findings are significant because although hypertension affects more than 20% of the general population, and is a known risk factor for male sexual dysfunction, there have been no definite data on a relation between sexual dysfunction and hypertension in women,” says researcher Michael Doumas, MD, of the University of Athens in Greece. “Since female sexual dysfunction greatly affects patients and their sexual partner’s quality of life, it seems of great importance to properly recognize and manage female sexual dysfunction in hypertensive women.”
The Blood Pressure Connection
Exactly how high blood pressure and female sexual dysfunction are connected is not clear, he says. “Women are more complex than men and many things affect their sexual desire and arousal,” he says, “We do know that you need a decent blood supply to the clitoris and vagina to have an orgasm, but we are just in the beginning of this field in regard to understanding the mechanism [of female sexual dysfunction] and treatments.”
Of the 65 million Americans with high blood pressure, nearly half are women, according to statistics from the American Heart Association. A blood pressure of 140/90 mmHg or higher is considered high.
Female sexual dysfunction is defined as persistent or recurring decrease in sexual desire, persistent or recurring decrease in sexual arousal, difficulty in or inability to achieve an orgasm, and pain during sexual intercourse.
“The big surprise is that more women than men experience sexual dysfunction,” he says. In fact, 43% of women and 31% of men experience sexual dysfunction, he says. Just as in men, several chronic diseases and drugs can affect sexual function, he points out.
Women in the new study completed a standard questionnaire called the Female Sexual Function Index (FSFI), which consists of 19 questions concerning desire, arousal, lubrication, orgasm, satisfaction, and pain. Results showed that more than four out of 10 (42.1%) women with high blood pressure had female sexual dysfunction compared with fewer than two out of 10 (19.4%) women without high blood pressure.
Treatment: A Catch 22?
While high blood pressurehigh blood pressure can result in sexual dysfunction, some medications used to treat high blood pressure can also cause problems with sexual function.
In the study, women who took drugs to treat their high blood pressure, but did not reach their target goal were more likely to experience sexual dysfunction, compared with women who were not taking medication. However those women who had good control of their blood pressure through drugs were much less likely to experience sexual problems, the study showed.
“This may be because doctors don’t use drugs that are known to have a positive effect on sexual function, but some newer drugs may have beneficial effects on female sexual dysfunction,” he says. And “if we can control blood pressure then we can have a benefit on female sexual dysfunction among other benefits,” Doumas says.
Thomas D. Giles, MD, ASH president and a professor of medicine at Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans, tells WebMD that he is not surprised by the new findings. “Most of the things that have to do with sexual function are neural and vascular in nature,” he says.
“While many physicians will inquire about sexual function in men, they don’t pursue it in women,” Giles says. “Treatment of hypertensionhypertension will improve sexual function and patients will have a better quality of life.”