Risk factors for hypertension: men vs women

September 16, 2008 by  

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The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute and MayoClinic list the following as the most common risk factors for hypertension:

  • Older age
  • Race or ethnicity
  • Overweight or obesity
  • Gender
  • Stress
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Use of tobacco
  • Family history of hypertension
  • High alcohol consumption
  • High sodium in the diet
  • Low vitamin D levels
  • Low potassium in the diet

This latest study by Chinese researchers reports that risk factors can contribute differentially to the developing hypertension depending on individual’s gender. The researchers studied 834 men and 835 women aged 15 to 84 years old in an ethnically isolated group and assessed their risk factors by collecting data on lifestyle, diet, and demographics as well as performing blood tests, genotyping, and blood pressure measurements.

The differences they observed were as follows:

Prevalence of hypertension

lower in women


lower in women


lower in women

Mean blood pressure

lower in women (116/72 vs 119/75)

Lifestyle risk factors

As expected, age is a common risk factor both gender that cannot be altered. However, several lifestyle risk factors seem to be strongly linked to males.

Lifestyle risk factors which are specific for males are:

  • Physical activity
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Body weight and body mass index (BMI)
  • Waist circumference

A lifestyle risk factor which is specific for females is calcium intake in the diet.

Other lifestyle risk factors common to both males and females are:

  • education level
  • plasma lipid profile (e.g. cholesterols and triglycerides)
  • dietary intakes of energy, fat, sodium, and potassium

Genetic risk factors

Gene markers also varied between males and females. Genetic polymorphisms affecting the following genes encoding:

  • calpastatin
  • lipoprotein lipase
  • thyrotropin-releasing hormone receptor
  • Willebrand factor

are specific for women.

Conversely, polymorphisms in the genes encoding the following:

  • angiotensin-converting enzyme
  • aldehyde dehydrogenase
  • hepatic lipase

 are specific for men.

Since this study was conducted on an ethnically isolated group of people and it is not clear how the results can be extrapolated to the general population. The researchers themselves are a bit cautious with the interpretation of the data and conclude that

Sex differences in the prevalence of hypertension in the Hei Yi Zhuang population may be mainly attributed to the differences in dietary habits, lifestyle choices, sodium and potassium intakes, physical activity level, and some genetic polymorphisms.”

Whatever future studies will show, they wouldn’t change the fact that an unhealthy lifestyle is a strong factor in getting hypertension – whether you are male or female!

Photo credit: gender symbols by kikoashi at stock.xchng

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