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Healthcare providers who mistake symptoms of high blood pressure as menopause-induced discomfort could increase the risk of serious heart disease in their patients.

A lack of hypertension, stroke, and cardiovascular studies focused on symptoms and treatment of women means that research designed for men is too often applied to women. As well, physicians who treat women based on life stages often miss information crucial to future health.

A study published earlier this year in the European Health Journal identified lifetime events that help identify women who may be at higher risk of developing ischemic heart disease. Study authors point out symptoms of high blood pressure in men are diagnostically pursued as hypertension. In women, the same symptoms may be considered situational.

First author Dr. Angela Mass of the Radboud University Medical Center, the Netherlands said, “High blood pressure is called hypertension in men but in women it is often mistakenly labelled as ‘stress’ or ‘menopausal symptoms.’ We know that blood pressure is treated less well in women compared to men, putting them at risk for atrial fibrillation, heart failure and stroke – which could have been avoided.”

The journal article identifies a cluster of events during the life of a woman which should be used to evaluate risk and spur early intervention to discuss and prevent disease conditions. Some of these events include:

  • Preeclampsia and related high blood pressure disorders during pregnancy are linked with a jump in risk of heart failure and hypertension. Risk of stroke is doubled in women diagnosed with preeclampsia while pregnant. 
  • Women who develop autoimmune disorders like lupus are at increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
  • Hypertension that is undiagnosed when a woman is in her 40’s or 50’s can be difficult to treat when the effects are unmistakable in her 70’s. High blood pressure also increases risk of dementia the longer it remains untreated. 
  • Women whose physicians fail to diagnose outlying symptoms of heart disease may prescribe hormone therapy for menopause symptoms including night sweats and hot flashes. The prescription could be a dangerous choice as women who are not assessed for cardiovascular risk before beginning hormone therapy may put themselves at higher risk of stroke, heart attack, or blood clot. 

A study from the Mayo Clinic published in the journal Menopause also identified the link between high blood pressure complications during pregnancy and symptoms like hot flashes and nighttime discomfort. Study lead Dr. Stephanie Faubion notes, “We know medical providers have historically done a lousy job identifying and following women with histories of high blood pressure disorders during pregnancy, despite knowing that they have a higher heart disease risk. This study is another reminder that these women are different. It is important that they not only receive education with regard to what they may experience during menopause, but also that they undergo routine screenings and counseling on how they can reduce their risk for heart disease.”

Physician ignorance is no excuse for poor healthcare. If you suffer a delayed or missed diagnosis that causes serious injury—speak to our legal team about your options. 

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