Yet Another Possible Byproduct of Menopause: High Blood Pressure

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Many women think of perimenopause and menopause as a downward spiral. For some women, however, this is a time of “ups.” Our temperature (and tempers) rise, our weight may creep upward, and our blood pressure may spike.

Yikes!

While it’s easy to spot rising body temperatures (red faces and sweat-drenched clothes) and expanding waistlines (busted buttons and zippers and snaps — oh my!), an increase in your blood pressure may not be so apparent.

Take, for example, the recent experience of one of my colleagues. One night, she woke up in the middle of the night with a horrific headache at the base of her skull. So she popped an ibuprofen and managed to go back to sleep. The next night, deja vu. On the third night, she woke up and entered “headache base of skull lying down” in the web search engine.

Now we all know it’s not usually a great idea to self-diagnose based on Internet search findings. My colleague found everything from migraines (she had these before, but told me that this headache felt different) to an abundance of spinal fluid to brain cancer to high blood pressure.

Trying not to panic (after all, it could raise her blood pressure), she called her doctor the next morning and managed to get an appointment the same day, citing her concern over elevated blood pressure. Even though she had low blood pressure her whole life, monitors her salt intake and exercises regularly, high blood pressure was the only diagnosis that seemed plausible.

Turns out, her self-diagnosis was spot on.

My colleague is not alone.

According to the National Institutes of Health, hypertension is by far the most important risk factor that affects women in the early postmenopausal years. About 30 percent to 50 percent of women develop hypertension before the age of 60. While you may experience many of these symptoms from menopause alone, mild to moderate hypertension may cause complaints such as non-specific chest pain, sleep disturbances, headaches, palpitations, hot flushes, anxiety, depression and tiredness.

The Mayo Clinic concurs, noting that blood pressure generally increases after menopause. This could be attributed to the hormonal changes of menopause or an increase in body mass index (BMI).

While some types of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for menopause may contribute to increases in blood pressure, many doctors prescribe transdermal (meaning through a cream or a patch) estradiol HRT for women early in their menopausual journey — under age 60 to help keep cholesterol levels down. Remember, there is no risk of thrombosis (blood clots) with transdermal HRT — it is the oral estrogen with progestin that increases the risk of thrombosis. When started more than 10 years after menopause, oral estrogen is more likely to cause a stroke or heart attack in the first year after starting HRT. According to the National Insititues of Health, in women with severe menopausal complaints and who are at low risk for cardiovascular heart disease, the use of HRT in the years proximal to menopause may be very helpful.

It is also important to note that for women who only took oral estrogen, who did not take progestin and were younger than age 60, the risk of heart attack, stroke and death from any cause decreased. A Women’s Health Initiative trial showed that women who start HRT before age 60 decreased their overall mortality by 35 percent.

The Endocrine Society also stated in its 2010 Scientific Statement on HRT: “Menopausal hormone therapy was associated with a 40 percent reduction in mortality in women in trials in which participants had a mean age below 60 years or were within 10 years of menopause onset.”

It is important to note that throughout these studies it is clear that the sooner you start estrogen therapy after menopause, the better.

To control your blood pressure both before and after menopause, the Mayo Clinic recommends:

  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Eat heart-healthy foods, such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
  • Reduce the amount of processed foods and salt in your diet.
  • Exercise on most days of the week.
  • Limit or avoid alcohol.
  • If you smoke, stop.

Your doctor will consider prescribing medicines if your blood pressure is 140/90 or higher — the threshold for high blood pressure.However, you may want to opt for beta blockers instead of calcium-channel blockers, as the latter have been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer. A study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association noted that in women aged 55 to 74, use of calcium-channel blockers for 10 or more years was associated with higher risks of both ductal and lobular breast cancer. (My colleague mentioned this to her doctor, who wasn’t even aware of this study. She is now taking a low-dose beta blocker.) Other medications used to treat hypertension include enzyme inhibitors, receptor blockers and diuretics.

“The risk of developing high blood pressure over a lifetime is extremely high if a person lives long enough,” said Dr. Deepak Bhatt, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, and director of the Integrated Interventional Cardiovascular Program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. For post-menopausal women, this is particularly true. By the time they reach their 60s and 70s, 70 percent of women have high blood pressure. After age 75, that figure rises to nearly 80 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

If left untreated, high blood pressure can lead to stroke and heart failure. It also can also contribute to dementia, kidney failure, vision problems (especially for those with diabetes), and sexual dysfunction.

The point is, you know your body better than anyone else. My colleague sensed that something was out of whack, and went to her doctor for medical advice/treatment. I’m not suggesting you make an appointment every time you have a hot flash or night sweat, but I do encourage you to be in tune with your body so that you’ll know when something merits calling your doctor.

Suffering in silence is OUT! Reaching out is IN!

After struggling with her own severe menopause symptoms and doing years of research, Ellen resolved to share what she learned from experts and her own trial and error. Her goal was to replace the confusion, embarrassment, and symptoms millions of women go through–before, during, and after menopause–with the medically sound solutions she discovered. Her passion to become a “sister” and confidant to all women fueled Ellen’s first book, Shmirshky: the pursuit of hormone happiness. As a result of the overwhelming response from her burgeoning audiences and followers’ requests for empowering information they could trust, Ellen’s weekly blog, Menopause MondaysTM, was born.

  • Pat Lacap

    Hi Ellen. Saw you in today show. Just found your website and love the info. I’m suffering from all aspects of menopause symptoms. The hot flashes are bad. I really get lightheaded and dizzy. Headaches too. No sleep at night. I’m 52 and working with my doctor. Have issues with depression and pain. This is all blended together and have anxiety too. But got to keep at it. Thanks for all your input and your info.

    • Ellen Dolgen

      So sorry to hear you are going through so much, Pat. Have you talked to your doctor about bioidentical hormone replacement therapy?

  • This is one of the conditions women sometimes ignore. Bad idea! The meds aren’t so bad. Great post. PS can’t wait to see the link of your appearance!

    • Ellen Dolgen

      So true, Carol. It was a quick 4 min on Kathie Lee & Hoda… never enough time to really get all the info to the viewers. BTW I am writing you from the plane…heading back to California!

  • I learn so much from your posts. Thanks for the great information and can’t wait to watch you with Kathie Lee and Hoda!

    • Ellen Dolgen

      Thanks, Lois. You are sweet. It was an interesting interview —- Hoda had her first hot flash that day!

  • While I am not at an ideal weight, I have been blessed with healthy blood pressure (which I think always surprises my docs). But you’re right, I need to pay attention and not take this for granted. Thanks for the reminder.

    • Ellen Dolgen

      I am happy to hear you have healthy BP! That is wonderful!

  • Low blood pressure runs in my family so it’s easy to assume I’ll just even out with all the menopausal matters. Your post makes it clear that’s not likely and I need to beware… and consider estrogen therapy. Thank you, ma’am!

    • Ellen Dolgen

      I have low blood pressure, as well. Many woman are having problems with elevated BP – so I felt this blog might be useful. The more we know, the better we can take care of ourselves.

  • I am few years away yet, but have Hashimotos and have many of the same symptoms as menopause. not fun. This is good info and I am glad to read it so I know what my options are when the time comes. Thank you

    • Ellen Dolgen

      I have Hashimotos Disease, too! Many of the symptoms of menopause are very similar to those of Hypothyroidism. I am glad that you find the info in my Menopause Mondays blog helpful. It is always good to be proactive about your health rather than reactive!

  • Good to know. Seems like things are never changing with our bodies. Constantly learning. Thanks

    • Hahaha that was supposed to be “always” changing.

      • Ellen Dolgen

        I knew exactly what you meant, Wendy! I think that is why they used to call it the “change”!!!

  • Great post Ellen. You are so right — we know our bodies best and we know what tools we can use to return to great functioning. I have had great success with bio-feedback not only to regulate blood pressure but also stress and pain!

    • Ellen Dolgen

      That is awesome news, Ruth. Thanks for sharing!

  • Super useful post.

    • Ellen Dolgen

      Glad it was helpful, Patricia. Thanks for stopping by!

  • Thank you so much for this information. I turned 50 and suddenly had chronic high blood pressure.
    My doctor has no idea why.
    I asked if it was a symptom of menopause and he said no.
    Jeeze.

    • Ellen Dolgen

      Doreen, it might be time to find a menopause specialist! Here are some tips in this Dear Ellen