From the time a woman has her first period until menopause, estrogen protects against high blood pressure. It helps by maintaining healthy levels of cholesterol in the blood, and keeping arteries flexible and elastic. This allows the heart to pump blood through the body smoothly and efficiently.
During menopause, estrogen levels decrease. Cholesterol levels rise, building up fat in the artery walls. Because the blood vessels are narrower and more brittle, your heart has to pump harder to move blood through your body.
Because of these changes, a women's risk of high blood pressure increases dramatically after menopause. This can lead to chronic high blood pressure, or hypertension, which can cause a stroke, impaired vision, kidney failure, heart attack, or congestive heart failure.
It's never too late to take preventive steps to keep your blood pressure at a healthy level. The first step is to stay on top of your blood pressure readings. Don't assume that just because you feel fine, your blood pressure is normal. By the time symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, vision changes, or blood in the stool appear, your blood pressure has already been high for some time. And that means damage to your blood vessels has already occurred.
There are things you can do, however, to take control. Stop smoking, exercise regularly, reduce your sodium intake (see DASH diet), and maintain a healthy weight. This is especially challenging because weight gain is common following menopause.
Also, talk with your doctor about whether additional calcium through diet or supplements is recommended for you.
If lifestyle changes and supplements aren't sufficient, your doctor may also recommend medication. It may be necessary to try a few different medications to find the right balance with the fewest side effects. Your health care practitioner will work closely with you to find the best solution.