The menopause is an important stage in a woman’s life. It is a time when she undergoes significant physical and psychological changes. However the main change is that of a decline in fertility which means that a woman is no longer able to conceive. This is due to the fact that her monthly periods have permanently ended.
But what also happens is that the female hormones progesterone and oestrogen fall which can have serious implications. In the case of oestrogen this hormone protects women against heart disease and bone loss (osteoporosis).
Women find that they are at increased risk of a wide range of medical conditions after the menopause which includes heart disease, stroke and osteoporosis. But another health risk and one which is major contributor to these diseases is high blood pressure.
High blood pressure usually affects more men than women although this changes once women reach the menopause. Blood pressure then rises during or after the menopause.
Causes of menopausal/post-menopausal high blood pressure
There is no exact cause of this but there are several possibilities which include:
- Lifestyle factors such as smoking, excess alcohol consumption and a high fat, high salt diet.
- Increased weight gain: many women find that they gain weight and this is a risk factor for high blood pressure.
- Hardening of the arteries: this occurs over time which weakens the arteries and so forces the heart to work harder than usual. This can raise blood pressure levels and over time, cause damage to the heart, e.g. enlarged heart.
- Ethnicity: Afro-Caribbean or Asian women are a greater risk of high blood pressure.
- Lead poisoning: this tends to be very rare but if a women lives in an old building then she may be a risk of lead contamination. This is a risk factor for high blood pressure in women but also affects men as well.
- Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT): some women have experienced a rise in their blood pressure as a result of HRT although this is still open to debate.
Does HRT increase the risk of high blood pressure?
The Stroke Association (www.stroke.org.uk) has produced a fact sheet which includes HRT along with other female specific risk factors as contributors for a stroke. However this may be a small risk only.
Speak to your GP about this risk if you are currently taking HRT.
High blood pressure is one of several risk factors for a stroke in both sexes.
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