Arteries in women age faster than in men, says study

New research from the Smidt Heart Institute helps to explain why women tend to develop different types of heart disease and with different timing than men

New research showed for the first time that women's blood vessels, both large and small arteries, age at a faster rate than men's and the research outcome has potential to explain why women tend to develop different types of cardiovascular diseases earlier or at different timing than men. The treatment depends heavily on finding out the stage when arteries begin to age.

Analyzing data across the country, Cheng and her research team conducted sex-specific analyses of measured blood pressure, which is a critical indicator of cardiovascular risk. The data included 145,000 blood pressure measurements, collected over a 43-year period from 32,833 participants ranging in age from 5 to 98 years old.

Sex-specific analyses of measured blood pressure

Since the risk for developing a heart attack, heart failure, or a stroke begins with having high blood pressure, Cedars-Sinai researchers combed the data for clues and patterns as to how blood pressure starts to rise. Then, instead of comparing the data from men and women to each other, investigators compared women to women and men to men.

This approach helped them to identify that the progression and evolution of women's vascular function is very different than for men. In fact, women showed signs of blood pressure elevation much earlier in life than men. The findings were published Wednesday in the journal JAMA Cardiology.

"Many of us in medicine have long believed that women simply 'catch up' to men in terms of their cardiovascular risk," said Susan Cheng, senior author of the study and director of Public Health Research at the Smidt Heart Institute. "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."

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A new Smidt Heart Institute study led by Susan Cheng, MD, MPH, MMsc, is helping to clarify differences between men and women with heart disease Cedars-Sinai

Age difference in men vs women

"Our data showed that rates of accelerating blood pressure elevation were significantly higher in women than men, starting earlier in life," said Cheng, director of Cardiovascular Population Sciences at the Barbra Streisand Women's Heart Center. "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."

Christine Albert says this new research should help guide clinicians to treat women with cardiovascular diseases. "This study is yet another reminder to physicians that many aspects of our cardiovascular evaluation and therapy need to be tailored specifically for women. Results from studies performed in men may not be directly extrapolated to women," said Albert.

Junk food damages arteries

Another recent research compared the effects of junk food and typical Mediterranean meal on the vascular endothelium: the inner lining of the blood vessels to determine how easily the arteries will dilate after a temporary, five-minute occlusion, following the consumption of the two types of meals.

The study by researchers at the University of Montreal-affiliated ÉPIC Center of the Montreal Heart Institute, and presented at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress in 2012 showed that a single junk food meal is detrimental to the health of the arteries, while no damage occurs after consuming a Mediterranean meal rich in good fats such as mono-and polyunsaturated fatty acids.

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