As many as 30% of all South Africans currently live with some form of cardiovascular disease. It is now one of the biggest causes of death in the country. That’s more than all the deaths caused by cancers combined, and more than half the deaths of people under the age of 65.
One of the biggest causes of heart disease is hypertension or high blood pressure. Long thought of as the exclusive domain of men, it’s a non-discriminatory disease and affects about 50% of women. Chances of getting it both during and after menopause increase drastically although the link between the two isn’t fully understood.
What are the symptoms of menopausal hypertension?
Many women don’t experience symptoms. It often goes undiagnosed because the symptoms are similar. These include hot flushes, fatigue, irregular heartbeat, dizzy spells, spots in front of the eyes, tinnitus, and interrupted sleep.
It’s a chronic progressive disease that develops over many years and gets worse over time. If left untreated it snowballs into more serious heart conditions including heart attacks and strokes.
Ageing and menopause are inevitable. As your body works to find a new normal, it is important that cardiovascular health remain top priority.
What causes menopausal hypertension?
Certain hormones cause blood vessels either to dilate or constrict. This in turn affects your circulation system, your blood pressure, and the health of your heart.
Menopause also brings slower metabolism and weight gain, water retention, mood changes particularly increased feelings of anxiety, and sleep disturbances.
The best way to keep your blood pressure in check and to avoid being a statistic, is to be proactive, and to approach it holistically.
There are no quick fixes. After all, the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second-best time is now. Because hypertension is chronic and progressive, self-management is often advised.
How is menopausal hypertension diagnosed?
An official diagnosis is obtained by consulting a doctor. A family history of heart disease and hypertension may put you at risk. Several blood pressure readings will be taken. Traditionally this is done with a blood pressure cuff also called a sphygmomanometer.
Your heart pushes blood out via its arteries in beats at a force. The pressure of the blood against the artery walls during the beat is called systolic (the higher number) and the blood that it pushes out while resting is called diastolic (the lower number).
Your heart is a muscle. It needs to be regularly and moderately exercised to keep your blood pressure in the healthy zone: 90/60 to120/80 is considered the normal range. If the pressure against the artery walls is consistently above the normal range, you have high blood pressure.
Hypertension is diagnosed with a blood pressure reading consistently above 140/90.
Hypertension puts strain on your heart making it work harder to pump blood through your body. Your lower left heart ventricle is particularly affected because its walls start thickening as it develops more muscle over time. This considerably increases your chances of angina, heart attack, heart failure or even cardiac arrest.
This podcast explains hypertension simply. To listen click here.
What’s the link between cholesterol and menopausal hypertension?
Cholesterol is a waxy-like substance needed by the body to produce certain enzymes, hormones, and Vitamin D. There are two major kinds of cholesterol namely HDL (good cholesterol) and LDL (bad cholesterol). Poor diet, smoking and lack of exercise cause the bad type to build-up in your arteries and veins. This makes them thinner which means that less blood moves through them, restricting blood flow. This increases your blood pressure even more.
When you do decide to exert your heart, your blood pressure increases to carry more things like nutrients and oxygen to your muscles. Due to an increase of blood pressure against the walls of the circulatory system, a piece of cholesterol may dislodge and get caught in places such as the heart or the brain causing either a heart attack or a stroke. Blood and therefore oxygen cannot reach the required areas.
Cholesterol levels are easily checked by qualified doctors and healthcare practitioners who might suggest the use of a medication called statins. Although this medication might reduce the bad cholesterols, it reduces the good ones too, which the body needs.
The best way to avoid this is to lead a healthy lifestyle and supplement correctly.
When having cholesterol levels checked you will be presented with a simple number. The rule of thumb is that five or below is healthy. Anything above that requires healthier lifestyle choices.
Want to find out more about cholesterol? Our team unpacks the difference between good and bad cholesterol. We also give valuable advice on dietary recommendations, lifestyle factors and herbal medicines to help manage cholesterol levels in your body. To listen click here.
Why is aerobic exercise so important with menopausal hypertension?
Exercising increases blood circulation. Blood is pumped by your heart around the body in a circular fashion. Blood is vital to building healthy cells which in turn builds tissues, organs, muscles, tendons, and nerves etc., and then keeping the organs regulated properly through a process called homeostasis.
Blood needs to reach every part of the body because it carries nutrients and trace elements as well as things like electrolytes which you need for energy, amino acids which help with building the cells, oxygen, hormones, and certain blood cells to our cells.
Just as important, it helps to detoxify the body too, by carrying waste products such as carbon dioxide out of the body. Like any muscle, the heart needs to be exerted and exercised to remain healthy, and to maintain steady blood pressure so that circulation can be achieved optimally.
Many physical discomforts and impairments such as hypertension are directly related to diminished blood circulation. The opposite is also true. Hypertension often causes poor blood circulation. This is because circulation is the cornerstone of health.
Without good blood flow, you simply cannot be at your best. Persistently cold hands and feet, heavy legs, swollen calves and ankles, numbness in your fingers and toes, unexplained pin and needles sensations, a pale or blue hue to the skin, numbness, tightness across the chest, restless legs and bulging veins are often symptoms of poor circulation and tell-tale signs of hypertension.
Regular moderate aerobic exercises such as cycling, walking, jogging, or swimming exercises your heart, improves circulation and keeps your blood pressure as well as waistline in check.
What lifestyle changes can I make to manage menopausal hypertension naturally?
Although the benefits of a balanced diet have been expounded time and time again, we’d like to remind you to watch what you eat and drink. Pay particular attention to your salt and alcohol intake.
While moderate amounts of both alcohol and salt can be beneficial to your health, too much of either can raise your blood pressure to dangerous levels. Alcohol also has empty calories and constant overindulgence can lead to weight gain which places you at further risk of hypertension.
Too much salt, on the other hand, causes your body to retain water which places extra strain on your arteries which further contributes to the risks associated with high blood pressure. Reduce your salt intake. Consider substituting with a more natural alternative.
Your sleep patterns are also vital to the healthy functioning of your mind and body. It’s as important as eating and breathing. This is due to something called your circadian rhythm. You need between seven and eight hours a day. Consistency is key when it comes to sleep, and the management of the symptoms associated with menopausal hypertension.
The body moves in and out of deep and light sleep cycles during the night. It does most of its repair when we sleep deeply. We need this amount of uninterrupted sleep to enter the phase of deep sleep which is when the body does most of its repair work. Often hypertension and menopause interrupt the sleep cycles which wreaks havoc on your daily functioning, creating a lacklustre downward spiral.
What natural remedies should I be considering?
- A.Vogel Boldocynara: A Western Herbal tonic to support the function of the liver and gallbladder. To promote liver function, production and flow of bile, support digestion, and have antispasmodic action. A general liver tonic to support liver detoxification and treatment of symptoms caused by liver and/or gallbladder dysfunction e.g., nausea, indigestion, raised cholesterol and skin problems.
- A.Vogel Crataegus Oxy: This helps in promoting the function of the heart. It is a cardiac tonic to assist impaired heart performance specifically due to congestive and ischemic heart disease. Broad-acting cardiac supportive action (heart failure, cardiac oppression, mild angina, arrhythmia, and geriatric heart weakness). Improves exercise tolerance, quality of life, breathlessness and fatigue in cardiac patients.
- A.Vogel Dormeasan: A Western Herbal formulation for the relief of sleep disturbances, stress, and anxiety. Ingredients support the nervous system by having a calming action and address symptoms such as restlessness and anxiety. When taken at bedtime, it promotes restful sleep. It is made from fresh, organic Valerian root and Hops, is non-habit forming, and will not cause grogginess on waking the next morning.
- A.Vogel Menoforce: A Western Herbal medicine that does not contain oestrogen or have an oestrogen-like action. It is used for the supportive treatment of menopausal syndrome and associated hot flushes and night sweats, and for the supportive treatment of hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating).
- Therapeutic indications in menopausal women:
- To reduce the frequency and intensity of hot flushes and night sweats.
- To improve sleep quality.
- To improve mental focus (cognitive function) and anxiety.
- To improve fatigue.
- To improve somato-vegetative symptoms of menopausal syndrome.
- A.Vogel Nephrosolid: This is a combination of four herbal medicines which function as a tonic to support the function of the kidneys, bladder, and urinary tract. Therapeutic indications:
- Supportive treatment of mild fluid retention.
- Tonic for the routine maintenance of kidney and urinary tract health.
- Supportive treatment of the general signs and symptoms of kidney and urinary tract disorder.
- Supportive treatment of signs and symptoms of kidney and urinary tract infection and inflammation.
- Supportive treatment and prevention of kidney stones.
- A.Vogel VegOmega3: These capsules are a source of the Omega-3 essential fatty acids, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), which are essential for the maintenance of good health and must be included in the diet as the body does not produce them. They are non-GMO and gluten-free.
References and additional reading:
- Weatherspoon, D. (2022) A guide to high blood pressure symptoms in women, Healthline. Healthline Media. Available at: https://www.healthline.com/health/high-blood-pressure-symptoms-women
- Heart & stroke foundation: South Africa (2022) Heart & Stroke Foundation | South Africa. Available at: https://heartfoundation.co.za
- Sobuwa, Y. (no date) Our hearts are killing us in SA, City Press. Available at: https://www.news24.com/citypress/news/our-hearts-are-killing-us-in-sa-20221001
- Causes of high blood pressure – risk factors: Weight, diet, age, lifestyle (no date) WebMD. WebMD. Available at: https://www.webmd.com/hypertension-high-blood-pressure/guide/blood-pressure-causes