World Hypertension Day is May 17: Women, do you know your numbers?

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woman getting her blood pressure measured for World Hypertension Day "Know your numbers"

This year’s theme for World Hypertension Day is Know Your Numbers. That’s something all women should make a point to do this National Women’s Health Week—check their blood pressure reading.

Normal blood pressure is 120/80, whereas prehypertension is defined as 120-139/80-89, with a reading of 140/90 defined as hypertension (more commonly referred to as high blood pressure).

The sponsors of World Hypertension Day—the World Hypertension League (WHL) and the International Society of Hypertension (ISH) have a lofty goal this year: they hope to increase high blood pressure (BP) awareness globally by aiming to inspire 25 million people to get blood pressure screenings this month. (You can participate by reporting your numbers to their website at May Measurement Month.)

Still, you might be wondering… what connects women’s health and blood pressure to sleep? 

Women’s health and hypertension

Here are 10 facts about women and high blood pressure (hypertension) to be aware of (source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention):

  1. Women are about as likely as men to develop high blood pressure during their lifetimes.
  2. For people 65 years old or older, high blood pressure affects more women than men.
  3. More black women than men have high blood pressure.
  4. Among blue-collar workers, women have a higher prevalence of hypertension than their male counterparts.
  5. Certain types of birth control can also raise a woman’s risk for high blood pressure.
  6. Women with high blood pressure who want to become pregnant should try to lower their blood pressure before becoming pregnant.
  7. Expectant mothers with high blood pressure are more likely to have complications during pregnancy than those with normal blood pressure.
  8. High blood pressure can place an expectant mother’s kidneys and other organs at risk, which can lead to low birth weight and early delivery of the baby.

Healthy blood pressure is critical for women’s overall health and well being. When women become hypertensive, they run the risk of having strokes, heart attacks, or developing heart disease or heart arrhythmias. They may also experience other dangerous conditions related to pregnancy, such as preeclampsia.

What sleep disorders contribute to hypertension?

Certain sleep problems can aggravate preexisting hypertension and may even lead to its development. These include circadian rhythm disorders, insomnia, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), primary snoring, restless leg syndrome (RLS), shift work disorder, and sleep deprivation by any cause.

Here are 10 more facts suggesting links between sleep problems and blood pressure among women (sources follow in line):

  1. Snoring during pregnancy may increase the risk for both pregnancy-induced hypertension and intrauterine growth retardation. (BioMed Research International, 2016)
  2. Preliminary data from one study suggests that obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) affects 8.1 percent of pregnant women by the second trimester, with an additional link made between OSA, hypertension and diabetes. (BioMed Research International, 2016)
  3. A Chinese study found that middle-aged women with extremely long sleep duration (more than 9 hours a night) were more likely to have high blood pressure than those women who slept between 7 and 8 hours a night. This finding was not true for men. (BMJ Open, 2016)
  4. Among postmenopausal women, self-reported insomnia was associated with higher risk of developing coronary heart disease(CHD) or cardiovascular disease. (Journal of Womens Health, 2013)
  5. A 2006 study focused on insomnia and hypertension found that more women than men (more than 60 percent versus less than 40 percent) who were patients of coronary artery disease reported problems with insomnia; those with insomnia tended to be older and had experienced high blood pressure for longer. (Blood Pressure, 2006)
  6. Penn Medicine is currently researching women who have pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) who also have daytime fatigue and insomnia to determine if their PAH might be the cause of their sleep-wake problems. (Penn Medicine, 2017)
  7. A recent meta-analysis concluded that sleep-disordered breathing is an independent stroke predictor; a separate Taiwan study reviewed gender-related differences and found a higher increase in stroke incidence among women than men, with women under the age of 35 showing the greatest risk increase. (Neurology, 2016)
  8. Women who had sleep apnea were almost twice as likely to develop what’s known as preeclampsia, a type of pregnancy-related high blood pressure. (Obstetrics & Gynecology, 2016)
  9. Untreated OSA leads to multiple problems in women (oxidative stress, inflammation, tissue damage, sympathetic activation and metabolic dysregulation) which predispose the body to atherosclerosis (“hardening of the arteries”). This confirms OSA as a common cause of systemic hypertension. (Journal of Sleep Medicine and Disorders, 2016)
  10. Pregnant women with OSA have a higher risk of gestational hypertension and are more likely to undergo a cesarean section than women without OSA. (Journal of Sleep Medicine and Disorders, 2016)

Connect the Dots and Know Your Numbers

High blood pressure is a silent condition; you don’t feel it, so your best bet is to have it checked.

You don’t even need to go to your doctor’s office to do this. You can:

  • purchase (or borrow) a blood pressure cuff to use at home
  • use blood pressure cuff machines found at many pharmacies
  • go to the local fire department and have them check it for you for free

Whatever you do, if you have trouble with sleep and/or struggle with daytime fatigue and sleepiness, you may want to discuss a potential sleep disorder as the hidden culprit behind your blood pressure if it becomes high and difficult to manage.

The American Sleep Apnea Association joins with other allies making strides to reduce stroke risk, such as the Health eHeart Alliance, Stanford Medicine (the MyHeart Counts smartphone app), and StopAFib: For Patients, by Patients.