You probably know that heart disease is the No. 1 Killer of women. What you might not know: You could have high cholesterol and high blood pressure – two of the biggest risk factors – and not even realize it. Protect yourself with these simple tests.
How to test your blood pressure:
- How It Works: A cuff is inflated around your arm. The attached dial or digital monitor measures the pressure in the arteries as your hear pumps.
- Why You Need It: Over time, high blood pressure can make your arteries less flexible, so blood has more difficulty flowing through them. Hypertension (the medical term for high blood pressure) also can damage blood vessels, possibly leading to kidney failure or blindness, or triggering the formation of plaque in the arteries that can cause a heart attack or stroke. Most often, people can't tell they have high blood pressure, but if you feel dizzy have blurry vision or get frequent headaches, see your doctor.
- When To Get It: Every two years as part of a routine checkup; once per year or more if your pressure is elevated.
- What The Numbers Mean: The optimal reading is less than 120/80 mmHg (millimeters of mercury). The top, or first, number – the systolic – is the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats. The bottom – diastolic – number is the pressure between beats.
- Next Steps: If your blood pressure is borderline high (130/80), get rechecked a few weeks later. Lifestyle tweaks such as losing weight, sticking to less that 1,200 milligrams of sodium a day, exercising and managing stress might lower your pressure in just three months, if you're borderline. If your pressure is high (greater than 140/90), your doctor might prescribe diuretics, ACE inhibitors or beta-blockers to reduce it, in addition to recommending the lifestyle changes above.
About half of women older than 45 have hypertension, but experts say it's showing up in younger women, because more of them are overweight (extra pounds put strain on all body parts, including the arteries). Being sedentary, eating too much sodium and having a family history or a condition such as diabetes can also put you at risk. Did you develop high blood pressure while pregnant? Even if it went back down after delivery you're at higher risk of getting the condition again.