Hypertension symptoms in women often mistaken for menopause

Symptoms of menopause, such as hot flushes and palpitations, are putting women at a higher future risk of heart disease, due to doctors overlooking hypertension (high blood pressure) as a cause of the symptoms.

A document from cardiologists and gynaecologists explains that doctors need to intensify the detection of hypertension in middle-aged women.

Up to 50 per cent of women develop high blood pressure before the age of 60, but the symptoms are often attributed to menopause.

“High blood pressure is called hypertension in men, but in women it is often mistakenly labelled as ‘stress’ or ‘menopausal symptoms’,” said report author Professor Angela Maas from Radboud University in the Netherlands.

“We know that blood pressure is treated less well in women compared to men, putting them at risk for atrial fibrillation (fast and irregular heart beat), heart failure and stroke, which could have been avoided.

“A woman’s life provides clues that you need to start early with prevention,” said Prof. Maas. “We have to assess female patients differently to men, and not just ask about high cholesterol. This will enable us to classify middle-aged women as high risk or lower risk for cardiovascular disease.”

According to the report, women who have an early menopause (before the age of 40) are more likely to develop cardiovascular disease, with around a three per cent higher risk.

Conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus are also more common in women compared to men and increase cardiovascular risk around menopause.

“There are several phases of life when we can identify subgroups of high-risk women,” said Prof. Maas. “High blood pressure during pregnancy is a warning sign that hypertension may develop when a woman enters menopause and it is associated with dementia many decades later.

“If blood pressure is not addressed when women are in their 40s or 50s, they will have problems in their 70s when hypertension is more difficult to treat.”

The document from the European Society of Cardiology also provides guidance on how to manage heart health during menopause, recognising the important role of a healthy lifestyle and diet.

While menopausal hormone therapy is indicated to alleviate symptoms such as night sweats and hot flushes in women over 45, the authors recommend assessment of cardiovascular risk factors before initiation. Therapy is not recommended in women at high cardiovascular risk or after a stroke, heart attack, or blood clot.

Prof. Maas explained that women can help their doctors prevent heart problems and make earlier diagnoses by mentioning issues such as early menopause and monitoring their own blood pressure.

At what age did you experience menopause? Have you experienced heart problems? Do you think doctors could have missed detecting hypertension or related issues?

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Written by Ben


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