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Under Pressure

New research finds that blood pressure rises earlier and faster in women than men.

Illustration: Egle Plytnikaite

New research finds that blood pressure rises earlier and faster in women than men.

About 11 million Americans with high blood pressure don't know they have the condition, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The "silent killer" raises the likelihood of a heart attack, heart failure and stroke when not detected early enough. The stakes might be even higher for women, who often don't realize they're at risk. 

New research from the Smidt Heart Institute suggests key differences in how high blood pressure, or hypertension, progresses in women and men. Among other things, the study found that blood pressure starts rising earlier and advances more quickly in women. 

"Many of us in medicine have long believed that women simply 'catch up' to men in terms of their cardiovascular risk," says Susan Cheng, MD, MPH, MMSc, the study's senior author and the Erika J. Glazer Chair in Women's Cardiovascular Health and Population Science. "Our research not only confirms that women have different biology and physiology than their male counterparts, but also illustrates why it is that women may be more susceptible to developing certain types of cardiovascular disease and at different points in life."

"Hypertension is underrecognized in women, it's undertreated and it's because of some implicit bias that young women are healthy," says C. Noel Bairey Merz, director of the Cedars-Sinai Barbra Streisand Women's Heart Center and the Irwin and Sheila Allen Chair in Women's Heart Research.

In reality, high blood pressure could be more serious for young women than young men, according to the Cedars-Sinai study, published in JAMA Cardiology