High blood pressure is a silent danger in older women, from the April 2013 Harvard Women's Health Watch

Millions of American women harbor a secret even they don't know they carry. It's high blood pressure, an often silent, symptomless condition that can damage blood vessels and overwork the heart, leaving women prey to heart disease, stroke, and premature death. The April 2013 Harvard Women's Health Watch looks at the reasons why so many women don't know their blood pressure and explains how the treatment of high blood pressure has changed.

A woman's risk of developing high blood pressure is extremely high if she lives long enough, says Dr. Deepak Bhatt, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and director of the Integrated Interventional Cardiovascular Program at Brigham and Women's Hospital. About 70% of women in their 60s and 70s have high blood pressure (hypertension), and that rises to nearly 80% after age 75.

Over time, living with high blood pressure puts added strain on the blood vessels and on the heart. The added force of blood surging through arteries damages artery walls and encourages the formation of cholesterol-filled plaques. These plaques can lead to the chest pain known as angina as well as to heart attacks and strokes.

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