Women’s blood vessels age quicker than men’s

Women’s blood vessels age at a faster rate than men’s, researchers from the Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai reported this month—a finding that could explain some of the considerable sex gaps in CVD in men and women.

Susan Cheng, MD, MPH, MMSc, director of public health research at the Smidt Heart Institute, led the study, which involved community-based data from multiple sites across the U.S. Cheng and her team conducted sex-specific analyses of measured blood pressure in an effort to better define some of the sex differences in heart disease.

“Many of us in medicine have long believed that women simply ‘catch up’ to men in terms of their cardiovascular risk,” Cheng said in a release. “Our research not only confirms that women have different biology and physiology than their male counterparts, but also illustrates why it is that women may be more susceptible to developing certain types of cardiovascular disease and at different points in life.”

Cheng said a person’s risk of developing heart failure or experiencing a stroke or MI typically begins with high blood pressure, so she and her colleagues focused on 145,000 BP measurements collected serially over a 43-year period for their analysis. The data represented 32,833 patients who ranged in age from 5 to 98.

Rather than comparing female data to male data, Cheng et al. compared women to women and men to men, which showed them that the progression of women’s vascular function over time differs greatly from men’s. Though more men develop heart disease at an earlier age, the authors’ study revealed that women actually showed signs of BP elevation much earlier in life than men.

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

The researchers said their study only reinforces the need for further research on women’s heart health and can serve as a reminder to physicians to tailor their CVD treatments based on sex.

Another paper published this year in Nature Medicine also explored the idea of high BP as a factor in risk differences between women and men, describing an “estrogen advantage” with women that dissipates after menopause and leaves them with stiffer arteries and higher blood pressure. That study’s authors also noted that obesity rates increase with age—especially in women—as do smoking rates.

Cheng and colleagues’ full study can be found online in JAMA Cardiology.