Women’s blood vessels 'age faster than men’s'

Alexandra Thompson
3d illustration of a constricted and narrowed artery (arteriosclerosis).
Blood pressure can indicate a person's heart disease risk. [Photo: Getty]

Women’s blood vessels may age faster than men’s, research suggests.

Scientists from the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in LA took blood pressure readings of more 32,000 people over 43 years, with participants ranging from five years old to 98.

They found blood pressure, an indicator of heart disease risk, rose much earlier in the female participants than their male counterparts.

The team concluded this was due to a woman’s “vascular function” evolving “very differently” from a man’s.

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“Many of us in medicine have long believed women simply 'catch up' to men in terms of their cardiovascular risk,” study author Dr Susan Cheng said.

“Our research not only confirms women have different biology and physiology than their male counterparts, but also illustrates why it is women may be more susceptible to developing certain types of cardiovascular disease and at different points in life.”

Young men face a greater risk of heart disease than women, according to Harvard Medical School.

The disease tends to strike men at 65, while the average age for a woman to have her first heart attack in the US is 72.

Yet, statistics also suggest more women die of heart disease every year than men.

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With blood pressure a warning sign of heart attacks and stroke, the scientists used this to uncover differences in cardiovascular risk between the sexes.

Results, published in the journal JAMA Cardiology, reveal the female participants “exhibited a steeper increase in blood pressure that began as early as the third decade and continued throughout the life course”.

After adjusting for factors that raise the risk of heart disease, like smoking and inactivity, the finding remained statistically significant.

Why this occurs is unclear.

“Our data showed rates of accelerating blood pressure elevation were significantly higher in women than men, starting earlier in life,” Dr Cheng said.

“This means if we define the hypertension threshold the exact same way, a 30-year old woman with high blood pressure is probably at higher risk for cardiovascular disease than a man with high blood pressure at the same age.”

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This contradicts “the notion important vascular disease processes in women lag behind men by 10-to-20 years”.

Instead, blood pressure elevations “progress more rapidly in women than in men, beginning early in life”.

These “early onset” increases to blood pressure may “set the stage for later-life cardiovascular diseases that tend to present differently, not simply later, in women compared with men”.

“This study is yet another reminder to physicians that many aspects of our cardiovascular evaluation and therapy need to be tailored specifically for women,” Dr Christine Albert, of the Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai, said.

“Results from studies performed in men may not be directly extrapolated to women.”