Women--especially older women--need to pay more attention to blood pressure, reports the Harvard Women's Health Watch

The older a woman gets, the greater her chances of developing high blood pressure, also known as hypertension: it affects 13% of women under age 44, nearly half of women in their 60s, and 80% or more of those over age 75. Hypertension is the most common condition for which women seek treatment, reports the August 2009 issue of Harvard Women's Health Watch.

A blood pressure reading has two numbers, like 145/90. The top (first) number is the systolic pressure; the bottom (second) number is the diastolic pressure. Experts now believe that in people over age 50, a systolic pressure of 140 or higher poses a bigger danger to the heart and health than a high diastolic pressure (90 or above). Most older women have isolated systolic hypertension—a systolic pressure of 140 or higher with a normal (under 90) diastolic pressure.

Up to about age 55, women are less likely to have high blood pressure than men. After that, blood pressure in women—especially systolic pressure—tends to rise more sharply than it does in men. Hormones may be a part of the reason.

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