Ahhh, spring! The weather is temperate, the flowers are in bloom, the birds are singing, the sun is shining, and the breeze is blowing. In other words, it just doesn’t get much better than this! Whether it’s gardening or hitting the hike and bike trail, it just feels right to be outdoors during this time of the year. For many of us, it’s also the time where we begin to get ready for swimsuit season by taking a closer look at our figures. While you’re looking at your figure, why not also take a closer look at your blood pressure?
High blood pressure is a serious - and potentially fatal - condition which contributes to heart disease, the number one killer in the United States, as well as stroke. Untreated, high blood pressure leads to the development of arteriosclerosis, a form of cardiovascular or heart disease. Arteriosclerosis occurs when the arteries, which are normally flexible, harden and thicken as a result of the added pressure in the blood vessels caused from hypertension. As the artery walls thicken, they also narrow which make is more difficult for blood to flow properly.
May is High Blood Pressure Awareness Month and there is both good news and bad news for those with the condition. According to the results of research published in the April 25, 2011 edition of Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association, by Earl S. Ford, M.D., M.P.H., death rates for those with high blood pressure are on the decline. The bad news is that in comparison to those without high blood pressure, death rates remain inexcusably high.
Ford’s research was based on the examination of the results of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) I Epidemiologic Follow-up Study and the NHANES III Linked Mortality Study. NHAMES I occurred over a four-year span from 1971 to 1975. NHANES III began 13 years later in 1988 and lasted until 1994. As a part of his research, Ford reviewed death rates from participants between the ages of 25 and 74 years from both the NHANES I and III studies.
Overall, Ford found that death rates among those with high blood pressure declined between NHANES I and NHANES III, with the death rate dropping from 18.8 percent to 14.3 percent. While the decline is good news, the death rate for those with high blood pressure was still significantly higher – 57 percent in the NHANES III study – when compared to the mortality rates for those without high blood pressure. Researchers also found that while the rate of death was higher for men with high blood pressure than women, the overall rate of decline in the death rate between NHANES I and NHANES III was much greater for men than women. Between NHAMES I and III, the death rate among men with high blood pressure dropped by 33 percent while deaths in women only dropped by 12 percent.
Researchers also found that women with high blood pressure had greater risk factors for heart disease than their male counterparts. According to Ford, “women gained more weight, were more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes and were less likely to quit smoking.” These results are not surprising given that between NHANES I and III, overall body mass index increased by 30 percent along with a 3.6 percent rise in the instance of diabetes. Positive gains were made in the areas of cholesterol - 45 percent reduction - and smoking with a 25 percent reduction.
Despite education, the gains made by women in beating this silent killer are not as great as those made by men. Women should monitor their blood pressure regularly, discuss changes with their physician, and determine whether or not blood pressure lowering medication is appropriate. It’s also important to maintain a healthy weight, quit smoking, and get regular testing for diabetes. With early diagnosis and intervention, the prognosis for women can improve.
Heart Disease: Risk factors, The Mayo Clinic, 12 Jan 2011, http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/heart-disease/DS01120
Hypertension Death Rate Drops, But Fatalities Still High, My Health News Daily, 25 Apr 2011, http://www.myhealthnewsdaily.com/death-rate-drops-high-blood-pressure-1432/
Mary Kyle is a free lance writer, editor, and project manager. She has a Master’s degree in Legal Studies and is a certified Project Management Professional. She has two children’s books to her credit and has authored or co-authored hundreds of articles. A songwriter and musician, she is a member of several bands and performs regularly.
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