The latest study, by the Smidt Heart Institute in Los Angeles, flies in the face of the medical consensus around heart health.
The new study found that blood pressure started increasing in women as early as their 30’s, and it continued to rise higher than blood pressure in men throughout the life span.
The researchers said that this early change in blood pressure sets the stage for different types of cardiovascular disease later in life.
“Women actually start out with a lower blood pressure,” explained study senior author Dr. Susan Cheng, director of public health research at the Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, in Los Angeles.
“If you think of it like a race, women start behind the starting line. So, when they get to the finish line, women have gotten there by running faster and harder, which causes more stress to their systems,” Cheng said.
Based on these findings, she said, it’s possible that women should be aiming for lower blood pressure numbers.
During the past 20 years, research has begun to challenge the notion that women and men have the same types of heart disease, but that women just have it later in life and may have unusual symptoms.
Recent studies have found big differences in the types of heart disease each sex often has. Men are more likely to have the typical Hollywood heart attack, with searing chest pain. On the other hand, women are more likely to have what’s called small vessel disease, according to background information in the study.
Both are types of ischemic heart disease — that means that blood flow to the heart is blocked. But the underlying cause is different.
A heart attack usually happens if an artery is narrowed from cholesterol build-up and a blood clot blocks the artery, cutting off blood flow to the heart. In small vessel disease, the heart’s smaller blood vessels don’t have a lot of build-up on them, but they don’t function properly, according to the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
“When you think of traditional heart disease, women do have that later in life. But it’s probably not that straightforward. Small vessel disease is much more subtle and it’s harder to recognize,” Cheng said.
The new study claims that women’s blood vessels AGE faster than men’s which increases their risk of heart diseases at a younger age and that women aged 30 with high blood pressure are ‘more likely to have heart disease.’
Why are younger women affected?
Apparently it is because their blood vessels and arteries are less efficient at that age and women are at a higher risk of heart disease compared to men because their arteries age faster.
Previous studies have shown men are more prone to hypertension – the medical name for high blood pressure – than women, especially below the age of 50.
It showed rates of accelerating blood pressure elevation started earlier in women than men.
Researchers looked at nearly 145,000 blood pressure measurements from 32,833 study participants to come to the conclusion. Participants were aged from five to 98 years old and measurements were taken over a 43-year period.
Instead of comparing the results between sexes, the researchers compared women to women and men to men.
This allowed the team to discover that women’s heart function begins to deteriorate more quickly than men’s – it started at around the age of 30.
The menopause effect
After the age of 50, women were thought to be at a higher risk because of hormone changes triggered by the menopause.
These changes lead to weight gain and make blood pressure more sensitive to salt –two things which make it harder for blood to circulate.
High blood pressure forces the heart to work harder to pump blood around the body and, left untreated, it scars and damages arteries.
Lead study author Susan Cheng said: ‘Many of us in medicine have long believed that women simply “catch up” to men in terms of their cardiovascular risk through the menopause.
‘Our research not only confirms that women have different biology and physiology than their male counterparts, but also illustrates why it is that women may be more susceptible to developing certain types of cardiovascular disease and at different points in life.
Our data showed rates of accelerating blood pressure elevation were significantly higher in women than men, starting earlier in life.’
The findings are published in the journal JAMA Cardiology.
High blood pressure, or hypertension, rarely has noticeable symptoms. But if untreated, it increases your risk of serious problems such as heart attacks and strokes.
More than one in four adults in the UK have high blood pressure, and at menopause it is certainly very common often related to oestrogen dominance and weight gain.
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