In my mid-20s, I thought high blood pressure (aka hypertension) was something only people my parent’s age had to worry about. It’s not. A number of things—alcohol, birth control pill, diet, pregnancy or, as I found out, a combination of stress + drinking a latte and smoking a cigarette before your doctor’s appointment—can lead to high blood pressure in younger women (and men). And high blood pressure can lead to heart attack, stroke and kidney damage, no matter how old you are.
About 19% of young adults may have high blood pressure, according to a 2011 study (young adults were defined as ages 20-32). And almost half of these young adults aren’t aware that it’s high. In honor of May being “National Blood Pressure Education Month,” let’s take a look at some of the things younger women should know blood pressure.
The most common causes of high blood pressure in women under 35 are pregnancy, drugs (including the pill) and poor diet.
• Pregnancy: High blood pressure in pregnancy is called ‘gestational hypertension,’ and can be mild to severe. Blood pressure usually returns to normal after pregnancy. In the severest cases, it can lead to preeclampsia, a condition that can threaten both mother and baby’s life.
• Drugs: Both legal and illegal drugs an contribute to high blood pressure. This includes alcohol, caffeine, amphetamines, birth control pills and hormone therapies.
• Diet: A poor diet is a major factor in high blood pressure. Diets high in salt, cholesterol and bad fats put you at risk. Soda and other sugary drinks do, too.
Other things that can lead to high blood pressure include obesity, heredity and lack of physical activity.
Blood pressures fluctuates.
Blood pressure doesn’t stay the same all the time. It lowers as you sleep. It goes up when you’re excited, or nervous, or afraid. Things like alcohol, caffeine, energy drinks, exercise, illness, amphetamines, hormonal imbalances, birth control pills and stress can cause it to rise for a spell.
120/80 is considered normal.
Blood pressure is measured as systolic pressure (the pressure of blood against artery walls when the heart beats) over diastolic pressure (the pressure between beats). For adults:
Normal = Less than 120/80 mmHg
Prehypertension = 120-13o/80-89
High = 140-159/90-99
Very high = 60 or higher/100 or higher
High blood pressure can be treated without meds.
In many cases, high blood pressure can be lowered and controlled by things like eating a healthy diet, consuming less salt, exercising, not smoking, being a healthy weight, managing stress and not drinking excessively. Potassium also helps control high blood pressure (find it in avocados, bananas, beets, kiwi, milk, oranges, spinach and squash).