Women experience all types of health changes before, during, and after menopause. From hot flashes to weight gain to mood swings, we endure it all as our capes ripple in the wind. Thanks to the decades of research on menopause symptoms, there’s plenty of information available about this special time of our lives. However, there’s one symptom that flies under the radar and can go unnoticed until it’s too late: the silent killer High blood pressure (hypertension).
What is Hypertension?
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, occurs when the force of your blood pushing through your arteries is consistently high. Your blood must pump at a healthy speed to deliver oxygen to your various organs. However, when the pressure is too strong, it can damage your arteries and your heart.
During menopause, the level of estrogen in a woman’s body dramatically decreases.
One key role of estrogen is to keep the artery walls flexible. When blood pressure increases and the arteries are too stiff to accommodate it, there’s a serious risk of damage to the arteries and the heart. This is possibly one of the reasons why there’s an increase in heart attacks among women 10 years after starting menopause.
Why Does Hypertension Occur During Menopause?
As mentioned, one theory of why menopausal women often experience high blood pressure is their decrease in estrogen. Estrogen contains a natural compound called nitric oxide which is responsible for expanding blood vessels. By allowing the vessels to expand and remain flexible, blood can flow through them easier.
Since women lose estrogen as they age, they also lose nitric oxide. With less nitric oxide in your system, your blood vessels must work harder to dilate and allow the blood to flow. Your heart must pump the blood harder to get it to circulate, hence the increase in blood pressure.
Another theory is that women tend to gain weight during menopause due to a decrease in estrogen, poor sleep, and decreased metabolism. When the body carries extra weight, more pressure is put on the arteries to efficiently push the blood to different organs.
Symptoms of High Blood Pressure
Unfortunately, doctors call high blood pressure “the silent killer” for a reason. It often goes without any symptoms. By the time you do notice symptoms (heart palpitations, chest pressure, shortness of breath, dizziness), you should go to the hospital immediately.
Check your blood pressure regularly during and post-menopause to ensure it stays within a healthy range. Ideally, your blood pressure should be between 90 over 60 and 120 over 80.
When left untreated, high blood pressure can lead to stroke, heart attack, vision loss, and kidney failure.
How to Treat High Blood Pressure
It’s so important to focus on living a healthy lifestyle during menopause. Since weight gain is a trigger for hypertension, many of the tips for treating it relate to maintaining a healthy weight.
Here are some ways to control hypertension:
- Decrease the amount of processed foods you eat
- Eat plenty of heart-healthy foods (fruits, vegetables, and whole grains)
- Decrease your sodium intake
- Get active every day
- Quit smoking and limit your alcohol consumption
Your doctor may also prescribe medication to regulate your blood pressure.
Another way you can impact your blood pressure is by managing your stress. When you feel stressed and anxious, your blood pressure rises.
One way to relieve your stress during menopause is to talk about it. There are tons of online menopause support groups you can join and feel less alone. Or, consider speaking with a counsellor who’s knowledgeable in menopause.