Blood pressure is the force of your blood against artery walls. When it measures above normal levels, it is called high blood pressure and increases your risk for having a stroke. It is also a precursor to heart and kidney disease. Once you have this medical condition, whose cause is unknown, it is very difficult to make it go away. Medication, special diet and exercise help reduce it. Women have unique blood pressure-related issues caused by other physical conditions.
Blood pressure is always recorded with one number, then a slash, then another number next to or underneath it. The systolic, or upper number, always comes first. It is the pressure when the heart actually beats. The diastolic number is on the bottom and should be a smaller number. This is the pressure between heartbeats. The numbers are a measurement of the millimeters of mercury (mmHg) registered on the blood pressure cuff device.
A blood pressure of 120/80 or lower is considered normal for adults, women included. The range above this, with systolic below 140 and diastolic below 90, is regarded as borderline and should be closely monitored. Anything consistently above 140 over 90 is called hypertension, or high blood pressure, and needs to be addressed. According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, 25 percent of all adult Americans have high blood pressure.
Women can develop increased blood pressure with onset of pregnancy, use of oral contraceptives and during menopause. They may not have hypertension, but should be followed closely. High blood pressure during pregnancy can cause smaller birth weight or early arrivals in babies and kidney or other health problems for mothers. Obesity and heredity also place women at higher risk for hypertension. According to the American Heart Association, African-American women have statistically higher average blood pressure than their Caucasian counterparts.
To reduce blood pressure reading levels, measure it in the morning before you start your daily routine. If you visit a doctor's office, avoid afternoon appointments and hectic activity before you arrive. Take a few quiet minutes to relax before you measure blood pressure. Do not take deep breaths; just breathe normally. Keep your feet flat, not crossed, and don't move around or talk while your blood-pressure measurement is taken.
Check your blood pressure at least every two years, more frequently when a problem is suspected. To keep a close eye on your blood pressure, monitor yourself at home and report the results to your doctor as requested. Most drugstores carry manual cuffs. Find one with an automatic digital readout for ease and accuracy in reading. Use it at the same time every day to ensure consistency in measurements. If there is an error on the reading, wait 10 minutes or more before trying again.