Susan Cheng, M.D.

Women have a lower healthy blood pressure range compared with men, according to new findings published in the journal Circulation.

Current clinical guidelines do not make this distinction, and a one-size-fits-all approach may be detrimental to female patients, said cardiologist Susan Cheng, M.D., MPH, MMSc, of Cedars Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles. 

Cheng and colleagues analyzed blood pressure measurements in studies involving 27,000 participants, about half of whom were women. They found that 120 mm Hg, considered the upper limit of healthy systolic blood pressure in adults, was indeed appropriate for men. But  110 mm Hg or lower was the actual threshold of risk in women. Systolic blood pressure levels that were higher than these thresholds in each sex were linked to cardiovascular disease, including heart attack, heart failure and stroke.

“We are now pushed to rethink what we thought was a normal blood pressure that might keep a woman or a man safe from developing heart disease or stroke,” Cheng said. 

“Based on our research results, we recommend that the medical community reassess blood pressure guidelines that do not account for sex differences,” she said. 

Cheng’s earlier research suggests that women’s blood vessels age faster than men’s. This is because of sex differences in biology and physiology that may explain why women appear to be more susceptible of developing certain cardiovascular diseases and at different points in life than men, she and her colleagues theorized at the time.

The investigators’ next goal is to study whether women should begin treatment for hypertension at the lower systolic blood pressure threshold of 110 mm Hg instead of at 120 mm Hg as currently advised.