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Women's Health

Is a "normal" blood pressure reading too high for women?

June 1, 2021

Study shows sex differences may affect health risks related to blood pressure, but more information is needed to confirm the results.

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Could a blood pressure reading that’s normal by current standards still put a woman at higher risk for heart and blood vessel disease? A study published Feb. 16, 2021, in Circulation hints that this might be the case. Researchers found that even a "normal" systolic blood pressure (the top number) under 120 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) can potentially increase a woman’s risk for a cardiovascular event — such as a heart attack, a stroke, or the need for a procedure to open an artery. Men, on the other hand, didn’t reach that same higher risk level until their blood pressure reached 130 to 139 mm Hg, defined as stage 1 hypertension (see "The current blood pressure standards").

This study only shows an association between elevated cardiovascular risk at lower blood pressures in women compared with men. Whether a woman actually benefits from actively reducing her already "normal" blood pressure to even lower levels remains unanswered as of now, says Dr. Randall Zusman director of the Division of Hypertension at the Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital Heart Center.

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