Study suggests blood pressure ranges that help predict risk for cardiovascular events may be lower for women

A woman has her blood pressure taken by a clinician.

Current guidelines recommend most adults should aim for systolic blood pressure levels – the top number that measures blood flowing against artery walls as the heart beats – below 120 mm Hg to reduce the risk for adverse cardiovascular events, like a heart attack, heart failure, or stroke. In a letter published in Circulation, researchers described varying systolic blood pressure ranges among men and women that overlapped with different cardiovascular events.

After reviewing data from 27,542 adults without cardiovascular disease at the start of one of four observational studies, the researchers found women had risk for cardiovascular events at lower blood pressure levels compared to men. For example, men experienced overall cardiovascular disease risk starting at systolic blood pressure levels between 130-139 mm Hg. Risks for women started between 100-109 mm Hg (compared to levels below 100 mm Hg). Similar trends were seen for heart-attack risks, which started between 110-119 mm Hg for women and between 150-159 mm Hg for men. For heart failure, risks in this study started between 110-119 mg Hg for women and 120-129 mm Hg for men. The authors note anatomical differences, such as artery size, could explain these variations. However, they note additional studies are needed to validate these findings. The research was supported by the NHLBI.