New research showed for the first time that women's blood vessels - including both large and small arteries - age at a faster rate than men's. The findings, published in the journal JAMA Cardiology, could help to explain why women tend to develop different types of cardiovascular disease and with different timing than men.
"Many of us in medicine have long believed that women simply 'catch up' to men in terms of their cardiovascular risk," said the, senior author of the study. "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."
Using community-based data amassed from multiple sites across the country, the team conducted sex-specific analyses of measured blood pressure - a critical indicator of cardiovascular risk. The data represented nearly 145,000 blood pressure measurements, collected serially over a 43-year period, from 32,833 study participants ranging in age from 5 to 98 years old.
Because a person's risk for developing a heart attack, heart failure, or a stroke typically begins with having high blood pressure, the researchers combed through their massive data looking for clues and patterns regarding 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 allowed investigators 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.
Women compared with men exhibited a steeper increase in BP that began as early as in the third decade and continued through the life. After adjustment for multiple cardiovascular disease risk factors, these between-sex differences in all BP trajectories persisted.
"Our data showed that rates of accelerating blood pressure elevation were significantly higher in women than men, starting earlier in life," said another author. "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."
Another author says this new research should help guide clinicians and researchers to think differently when it comes to treating and studying women and their cardiovascular health.
Women's blood pressure rise starts earlier than men's
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