It’s really common to have high blood pressure – the condition also known as hypertension where your blood moves around your body with too much force – as you get older. But does that mean that it’s linked to the aging process? And, for women, can menopause cause high blood pressure?
Turns out, it’s not quite as simple as that, but let’s take a look.
In this article: 📝
- What should your blood pressure be?
- Can menopause cause your blood pressure to rise?
- Why might menopause cause high blood pressure?
- What are the symptoms of high blood pressure in a woman?
What should your blood pressure be?
You might have heard that your blood pressure should be 140/80 mmHg or less.
For a long time, this was the baseline, and anything under that measurement was considered normal.
But, in recent years, some health systems have updated their scales.
Now, the healthy numbers to aim for are actually between 90/60 mmHg and 120/80 mmHg.
Anything over that is considered high blood pressure. And anything over 180/120 mmHg would be considered a medical emergency, where there’s a risk of heart attack, stroke, or permanent damage to your blood vessels.
Can menopause cause your blood pressure to rise?
So, does menopause cause high blood pressure?
The hormonal changes you go through during menopause certainly seem to affect the rest of your bodily systems, right?
If your blood pressure has crept over 120/80 mmHg for the first time, it’s easy to assume that it’s just another item on the long list of menopause symptoms you might be experiencing.
What’s more, a lot of common menopause symptoms – mood swings, irritability, and even hot flashes – can all make it feel as though your BP is skyrocketing.
Many women also experience dizziness and a feeling of anxiety during menopause, and some people with high blood pressure go through this too.
It’s true that, generally, women’s blood pressure is higher after menopause.
Averaged out across your whole 40s, 50s, and 60s, men and women have about the same chance of developing hypertension.
But, after the average age of menopause (which is about 51), more women are newly diagnosed with hypertension than men of the same age.
What’s less clear is whether this is a case of causation or correlation. Basically, is menopause making it happen, or is it happening for other reasons related to getting older?
So, what’s really behind the link?
Why might menopause cause high blood pressure?
Can hormone imbalance cause high blood pressure? There does seem to be a link between female hormones and blood pressure – particularly estrogen.
Estrogen is important for ovulation. As your body gradually stops releasing eggs from your ovaries, your levels of estrogen drop.
But this hormone also has a really important role to play in keeping the tissues in your body elastic (loss of ‘stretchiness’ in your vaginal wall, for example, is part of the reason that sex can sometimes be painful after menopause).
Your body works best when your blood vessels stay elastic too.
Otherwise, they can’t expand and contract according to how fast your heart is trying to pump blood around your body.
If your blood vessels don’t stretch (or dilate, to use the technical term), your heart needs to work harder and your blood pressure goes up.
It’s totally normal to gain weight during menopause because your metabolism slows down.
It’s also normal to put on weight in different parts of your body than you did before.
Unfortunately, weight gain during menopause and blood pressure are pretty clearly linked.
The problem is, we know that there’s a direct connection between weight gain and elevated blood pressure, and it looks like there’s also a link between where you carry your extra weight and the risk of high blood pressure and heart conditions.
It seems that you might be at higher risk of developing hypertension if you gain weight on your middle, compared to if your body is ‘pear-shaped’.
We might have to let menopause off the hook a bit here, though, because the link between weight gain and rising blood pressure is there for everyone, at every point in their lives.
For some complicated biochemical reasons, it’s quite common for your body to become more sensitive to sodium (the salt in your diet) as you age.
Too much sodium makes your body hang on to water, and water retention can also raise your blood pressure.
While, again, this is a trend across the whole population, it does seem to be more common in women after menopause.
Hormone replacement therapy
It’s worth noting that hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can also cause high blood pressure.
Although this medication can help to make a lot of different menopause symptoms more manageable (because it replaces the hormones your body is no longer making on its own), it’s not suitable for everyone.
And if you already have untreated hypertension, your doctor will want to get this under control before you start HRT.
What are the symptoms of high blood pressure in a woman?
Thankfully, doctors are becoming more aware that some health conditions present differently in men and women.
The classic heart attack symptoms, for example, are way more common in men, and women are more likely to feel like they have back pain than a shooting pain in their left arm.
On the other hand, the symptoms of high blood pressure in a woman are usually the same as the ones in the medical textbooks:
- Severe headaches
- Vision changes
- Nose bleeds
- Chest pain
- An irregular heartbeat or the sense that your heart is pounding in your ears
- Difficulty breathing
Having said this, it’s also possible to have hypertension, even dangerously high blood pressure, without any symptoms at all.
A lot of people only find out that their blood pressure is high when it’s measured at a doctor’s appointment for something else, or during a routine health screening.
So if you’re experiencing these symptoms, it’s likely that your blood pressure is already very high, or has been high for a while.
In this case, it’s a good idea to make an appointment with your doctor as soon as you can.
Together, you can come up with a plan for managing your blood pressure and reducing the long-term risks to your health.
And the easiest way to lower your blood pressure? With a healthy diet (especially reducing salt and saturated fats, and upping your fruit and veg intake), regular exercise, and winding down at the end of a stressful day.
Your doctor may also prescribe an ACE inhibitor or beta-blocker to help.