Many middle-aged women could significantly reduce their risk of heart disease by lowering their blood pressure, researchers say.
High systolic blood pressure (the pressure when the heart contracts) is a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease and its common outcomes -- heart attack, heart failure and stroke -- in middle-aged and older women around the world, according to the report released in the journal Hypertension.
In a blood pressure reading, systolic blood pressure is the first number recorded; in 120/80, for example, the systolic pressure is 120.
The researchers also found that the proportion of potentially preventable and reversible heart disease is almost 36% in women, compared with 24% in men.
In the study, an international team of researchers followed 9,357 women and men, average age 53, in Europe, Asia and South America for a period of more than 11 years. They found that three major risk factors account for 85 percent of reversible risk for heart disease in women and men: high systolic blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking. High systolic blood pressure was the most important risk factor.
"We found that a 15 mm Hg increase in systolic blood pressure increased the risk of cardiovascular disease by 56 percent in women, compared to 32 percent in men," Dr. Jan A. Staessen, director of the Studies Coordinating Center in the cardiovascular rehabilitation division at the University of Leuven in Belgium, said.
"It is recognised that women live longer than men, but that older women usually report lower quality of life than men. By lowering systolic pressure by 15 mm Hg in hypertensive women, there would be an increased benefit in quality of life by the prevention of cardiovascular disease in about 40% in women compared to 20% in men," he said.
As a result, women and their doctors should become more aggressive in their diagnosis and treatment of high systolic blood pressure, Staessen recommended.
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