According to researchers at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center (CSMC), women are not simply ‘catching up” to men in terms of the aging of their blood vessels, they are exceeding them. The study’s research findings, published in a recent issue of the journal JAMA Cardiology, explains why woman tend to develop different types of cardiovascular disease 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 Susan Cheng, MD, MPH, MMSc, senior author of the study and director of Public Health Research at the Smidt Heart Institute in a January 15, 2020 statement detailing the study’s findings.. “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,” says Cheng.
The CSMC researchers used community-based data amassed from multiple sites across the country. 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.
Cheng and her research team conducted sex-specific analyses of measured blood pressure — a critical indicator of cardiovascular risk.
Because a person’s risk for developing a heart attack, heart failure, or a stroke typically begins with having high blood pressure, CSMC researchers scoured 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.
Recognizing the Progression of Women’s Vascular Functioning
This research methodology allows the investigators to recognize 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, they said.
“Our data showed that rates of accelerating blood pressure elevation were significantly higher in women than men, starting earlier in life,” said Cheng, the Erika J. Glazer Chair in Women’s Cardiovascular Health, who also serves as 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,” she noted.
Adds Christine Albert, MD, MPH, founding chair of the newly established Department of Cardiology at the Smidt Heart Institute, this research study should help steer clinicians and researchers into thinking differently when it comes to treating and studying women and their cardiovascular health.
“Our women’s heart health experts have a long history of advocating for adequate inclusion of women in research and the need to both recognize and study sex differences in cardiovascular physiology and disease,” noted Albert. “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,” she said.