The American Heart Association states that heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women and that 90 percent of all women have at least one risk factor for heart disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that around half of American adults and 43% of adult women in the U.S. have high blood pressure, many of whom are undiagnosed.
“High blood pressure is often called the “silent killer” because there are no obvious symptoms and the damage it causes to your cardiovascular system over time leads to even greater incidents of heart disease,” said Druenell Linton, M.D., a cardiologist specializing in women’s cardiovascular disease at Piedmont Heart Institute in Conyers.
Blood pressure is the pressure of blood pressing against your arteries which carry blood away from your heart to the rest of your body. High blood pressure, also called hypertension, means your body is having to use more force to pump the blood through your arteries. Left untreated, high blood pressure can lead to heart damage, other forms of heart disease, heart attack and stroke.
A person’s blood pressure naturally rises and falls throughout the day which is caused by a number of things from eating and drinking to physical activity. Stress also plays a role in increased blood pressure. Emotional stress and anxiety can lead to increased blood pressure, and prolonged episodes of stress can lead to more serious cardiovascular problems.
“For women who are living with a higher level of stress, they may have no idea that their blood pressure is high and increasing their risk of having a heart attack or stroke,” said Dr. Linton.
For many women, common daily stresses have been amplified during the COVID-19 pandemic. In many cases, women have shouldered more of the burden of changes caused by COVID-19, such as working from home while caring for young children, supervising remote learning, in addition to caring for older family members. Stress can lead to long-term heart health problems as well as difficulty sleeping, headaches and body aches, indulging in risky habits such as smoking, drinking, overeating or drug abuse.
While not all stress is bad, it is important to know how to manage stress in order to avoid risk factors that increase your risk of heart disease. Some simple stress management techniques include,
• Engaging in physical activity such as walking, riding a bike, or yoga to help relieve the tension in your body, as well as strengthen your heart muscles and lung through cardiovascular exercise,
• Try to do at least one thing every day that you enjoy,
• Give up bad habits like too much alcohol. If you smoke, make a plan to quit,
• Slow down and allow enough time to get things done, not everything has to be accomplished in one day,
• Get enough rest. Try to get eight hours of sleep each night.
To manage and prevent high blood pressure, it is important to know your numbers or your blood pressure range. To have your blood pressure measured and to learn more about preventing high blood pressure, visit your primary care physician.
Piedmont Heart Institute also offers a $99 cardiovascular screening designed just for women. To learn more or to schedule a screening, please visit www.piedmontred.org/#managing.