This October, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) Office on Women's Health (OWH) is leading the 3rd Annual National Women's Blood Pressure Awareness Week (NWBPAW) to improve women’s health outcomes related to hypertension, or high blood pressure.
Heart disease is the number one cause of death for women in the United States. One of the major risk factors for heart disease is hypertension, which is a blood pressure at or above 130/80 mmHg. High blood pressure is often called a “silent killer” because women with the condition may show no symptoms.
The key to preventing hypertension is to know and control your blood pressure.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that nearly half of women who have hypertension (high blood pressure) do not have it under control. The good news: Early diagnosis and blood pressure management can reduce heart-related disease and death.
The theme of NWBPAW 2022 – Healthy Hearts, Healthy Communities – highlights the need to connect women with resources and tools within their communities to improve their heart health. We encourage you to take simple, everyday steps to control your blood pressure and put a heart-healthy lifestyle into practice.
Why focus on connecting women to community resources?
Connecting women with the latest information, evidence, and research on how to measure and control their blood pressure is more important than ever. The reason?: a recent survey shows most women do not recognize that heart disease is their number one health threat. In addition, some heart disease risk factors and symptoms differ between women and men, which may complicate diagnosis.
During NWBPAW, we encourage women of all ages – that means you! – to connect with people and resources in your community for support. Nearly half of U.S. adults have high blood pressure, meaning it’s likely you or someone you love has the condition. Now is the time to reach out and explore what your community offers in terms of free support – from measuring blood pressure to developing a plan to achieve blood pressure control.
What are the daily themes for the week?
Throughout the week, OWH will share messages to promote daily themes focused on blood pressure control and awareness.
BP Bootcamp – A Crash Course in Knowing Your Numbers
High blood pressure, also called hypertension, occurs when the pressure or force of blood flowing through your arteries is higher than normal. If the pressure of blood pushing against the artery walls is too high, it can damage your arteries and cause other complications.
Blood pressure is a measure of:
- Systolic pressure (the top number): the pressure as your heart beats or pumps blood into your arteries.
- Diastolic pressure (the bottom number): the pressure when your heart rests between beats.
To lower your risk of heart disease and stroke, try to maintain your blood pressure at less than 120 systolic/80 diastolic. Click here for more information about high blood pressure symptoms and causes.
Find out more about maintaining healthy blood pressure and how to monitor your blood pressure at home, here. You can also print this tool to help you keep track of your blood pressure!
Hypertension Resources in Your Community
High blood pressure does not always result in symptoms, so the only way to know you have it is to get your blood pressure measured. If you are not sure if you have high blood pressure, it’s time to find out and explore resources offered in your community!
To help you on your journey to a healthier heart:
- Schedule an appointment with your health care provider to get your blood pressure checked. Most health insurance plans are required to cover women’s preventive health services and well-woman visits to screen your health at any time.
- Investigate whether a local grocery store or pharmacy offers blood pressure kiosks, so that you can check your blood pressure with no appointment needed.
- Reach out to your health care provider, local health department or community health clinic about resources to help you develop your personalized plan to lower and maintain a healthy blood pressure. State health departments may also know of resources available in your community. They may recommend you monitor your blood pressure at home and share your readings with your health care professional.
- Print out this list of questions to ask your doctor, nurse, or health care provider. Also, ask whether your insurance or state Medicaid program will cover the cost of a blood pressure cuff for your at-home use.
- Talk with a friend about which lifestyle changes such as reducing salt intake, increasing physical activity and managing stress in healthy ways you can take today to control your blood pressure. Challenge each other to make changes!
Destress for BP Success
Stress can contribute to high blood pressure and other heart disease risk factors, according to the National, Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Taking time every day to relax and destress is critical to lower blood pressure and increase quality of life. This NWBPAW, we encourage all women to find new ways to respond to and cope with stress.
Increasing self-care activities can help you achieve and maintain a healthy blood pressure. By self-monitoring your blood pressure, you may also discover personal “triggers” that may increase stress and your blood pressure.
Try these stress-reducing activities:
- Practice mindfulness or meditation
- Talk about concerns with someone you trust or a professional counselor
- Get daily exercise
- Use relaxation techniques or practice yoga
- Take time for yourself – such as listening to music, reading a good book, or watching a movie.
Remember: If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available through the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. Call or text 988 or chat 988lifeline.org.
Blood Pressure Control: Solutions from the Community
Join OWH on October 19th at 12 p.m. ET for a virtual summit focused on innovative approaches to hypertension prevention, care and treatment! During the summit, we’ll seek input on a variety of topics including bridging practice gaps in delivering telehealth, increasing health equity, and addressing hypertension in pregnancy and/or postpartum. Patients, who have benefited from innovative approaches in treating hypertension; subject matter experts; Phase 1 awardees of the HHS Hypertension Innovator Award Competition; and a representative of OWH's Self-Measured Blood Pressure Program (SMBP) will be in attendance to share experiences and lessons learned.
The summit is open to the public and we look forward to you joining us! For more information on how to register to attend the summit, please visit: https://www.womenshealth.gov/hypertensionsummit.
Bridging Disparities in the Rates of Hypertension
In the United States, non-Hispanic black women are more likely to have high blood pressure compared to women of other racial and ethnic groups. In addition, pre-pregnancy hypertension rates approximately doubled in the past decade with higher prevalence among women living in rural areas. That means more women may be at risk for pregnancy-related high blood pressure, also called preeclampsia.
OWH is committed to enhancing health equity. We recently launched the HHS Hypertension Innovator Award Competition to ensure women with hypertension during pregnancy or postpartum receive effective monitoring and follow-up care. We also are working to increase knowledge about and expand access to self-measured or self-monitoring blood pressure resources through the OWH Self-Measured Blood Pressure Program.
These initiatives build on broader HHS efforts to address hypertension among racial and ethnic minority populations, reduce disparities, and prevent pregnancy-related deaths through CDC’s HEAR HER campaign. In addition, advancing health equity is a major focus of Million Hearts® 2027 – a national initiative co-led by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) that aims to prevent one million cardiovascular disease events in the next five years.
Reducing disparities in the rates of hypertension requires action from everyone. Learning your own personal risk factors can help. You may have an increased risk of high blood pressure if you have a family history of the disease. Other risk factors include unhealthy diet, lack of physical activity, tobacco use, and obesity. Talk with your doctor, nurse, or health care provider about your risks and developing a heart-health plan.
Spotlight on Nutrition
Diet-related diseases – including heart disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes – are some of the leading causes of death and disability in the U.S. That’s why the Biden-Harris Administration hosted the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health on September 28th. The conference – the first of its kind in more than 50 years – aimed to bring together the public and private sectors around a coordinated strategy to accelerate progress and drive change in the U.S. to end hunger, improve nutrition and physical activity, and close the disparities surrounding them. Read more about the National Strategy to address these challenges, here.
To learn what steps you can take to improve your diet and heart health, ask your health care provider or local health department to help you develop a personalized nutrition plan.
Also, visit our Healthy Eating section and check out the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) eating plan recommended by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). The flexible and balanced eating plan helps create a heart-healthy eating style for life by providing daily and weekly nutritional goals such as:
- Eating vegetables, fruits, and whole grains
- Including fat-free or low-fat dairy products, fish, poultry, beans, nuts, and vegetable oils
- Limiting foods that are high in saturated fat, such as fatty meats, full-fat dairy products, and tropical oils such as coconut, palm kernel, and palm oils
- Limiting sugar-sweetened beverages and sweets
Work It Out – Coming Together in Your Community for Fun and Fitness
Regular physical activity is one of the most important steps you can take to manage high blood pressure. It can help boost your mood, sharpen focus, reduce stress and improve sleep. Making physical activity a fun part of your daily life can be easier with the help of friends!
This NWBPAW, create a weekly activity plan through Move Your Way and make plans with a friend to go for a walk, bike ride, or swim. Check out exercise classes at a local YMCA, park or gym and whether you opt for in-person or virtual classes the idea is to get moving together and connect to boost your physical and mental health.
Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity daily – anything that gets your heart beating faster – or 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity like running. Remember to incorporate muscle-strengthening activity, including lifting weights or using resistance bands, into your routine at least two days a week. These activities will help prevent muscle loss due to aging and immobility.
Learn more about committing to a healthy lifestyle in our Getting Active section.