Why blood pressure norms are wrong for women


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"120 over 80” is pretty commonly known as a normal blood pressure reading. However, for women, that hallmark of health may actually be completely incorrect, according to a new study that found women should have a different baseline.


Women often do have lower blood pressure than men in a healthy state, but researchers wanted to know if women should actually be measured against a lower range in general.


The study, published in Circulation, underscores how bias in health care has impacted women’s health across specialties. Health protocols are typically geared toward men, which health conditions in women can be missed more frequently. For example, cardiovascular disease can present differently in women than in men. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., claiming the lives of 1 in 4 Americans. A woman experiencing a heart attack may not have the "typical" chest pain, but she may exhibit nausea or vomiting, shortness of breath, dizziness, or have no symptoms at all.


Blood pressure readings measure how much pressure your blood exerts when the heart beats and when resting between beats. The first number in a reading, the systolic blood pressure (SBP), is typically given more weight as a telltale sign of cardiovascular disease risk when elevated.


Blood pressure less than 120/80 is considered healthy for all adults, but researchers found that blood pressure for women above 110 for systolic pressure is actually grounds for concern, as this indicates higher risk for heart issues like myocardial infarction, heart failure and stroke. In fact, the stroke risk for women at a SBP range of 120 to 129 was comparable to the same risk for men in the range of 140 to 149.


The results made the researchers believe sex specific optimal ranges for SBP should be created. However, they noted more research is needed on this topic.


“Our outcomes-based results suggest the possible need for a lower sex-specific definition of optimal SBP for women,” wrote first author Hongwei Ji, MD, and colleagues.