- Researchers say a woman’s blood vessels age more quickly than a man’s blood vessels.
- They say this accelerated aging process may begin in some women as early as their 30s.
- Experts say the aging can cause a rise in blood pressure and lead to a number of cardiovascular diseases in women.
Women’s blood vessels age at a faster rate than men’s.
Researchers say this could explain why women develop different forms of cardiovascular disease at different times than their male counterparts.
“We had previously known that measures of arterial stiffening tend to accelerate faster in women compared to men in later life, after the menopausal transition, but these findings indicate that the faster acceleration in arterial changes really begins much earlier in life, and that sex differences in the pattern actually persists from the younger all the way through to the older decades of aging,” said Dr. Susan Cheng, senior author of the study and director of public health research at the Cedars-Sinai Smidt Heart Institute in Los Angeles.
“This tells us that the health of arteries and their response over time to factors that put stress on arteries is likely quite different between females and males, and this has implications for a range of organ system and disease processes that rely on having healthy arteries,” Cheng told Healthline.
In undertaking the research, Cheng and her colleagues analyzed nearly 145,000 blood pressure measurements collected over a 43-year period.
The measurements were taken from more than 32,000 study participants aged from 5 to 98 years old.
The researchers then examined the data to find patterns in when blood pressure began to rise.
“Blood pressure is a very accessible way to get a sense of how a person is doing in terms of their general vascular health, and it is a pretty reliable method for gauging the likelihood of a person developing a vascular-related disease condition in the future,” Cheng said.
Instead of comparing data from men and women in the study, the researchers compared women with women and men with men.
“When we looked at the data this way, we realized that it wasn’t just that women were catching up to men, but that rates of acceleration in blood pressure elevation were significantly higher in women than in men starting early in life, well before the menopausal transition, indicating that females really are different from males and we need to think about them differently when it comes to both health and disease,” she said.
The study is the latest in a growing body of research examining physiological differences between female and male cardiovascular progression and outcomes.
“For many years, men and women with cardiovascular disease were treated similarly because the intrinsic physiologic differences between men and women that play a role in how the cardiovascular system functions were not fully understood,” Dr. Megan Kamath, a cardiologist at UCLA Health in Los Angeles, told Healthline.
“Recent research now shows that there are subtle differences in the cardiovascular systems of men and women that can begin early in life. We need to continue to investigate how these differences may affect women and their cardiovascular function across their lifetime,” she said.
The American Heart Association estimates 103 million adults in the United States have high blood pressure. That’s about half of the adult population.
Untreated high blood pressure can lead to heart disease, stroke, and damage to the kidneys.
“Blood pressure elevations in particular have a lot of implications for the blood vessels: tears, hardening, and different distortions as it relates to how the blood supply gets sent to the different organ systems. So, those are things we pay very close attention to,” Dr. Nicole Weinberg, a cardiologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, told Healthline.
Experts say there are number of factors that could cause blood pressure elevations in women in their 30s.
“There’s a lot of different things that can affect blood pressure,” Weinberg said. “There’s life stresses. There’s lack of sleep. There’s hormone changes… there’s so many things that affect our blood pressure, and when you think about a young woman’s life, all these things are quite variable… so perhaps these are some of the things that are showing spikes in blood pressure.”
Kamath says anatomy may also be a factor.
“The differences in blood pressure trajectories may be explained by not only the sex-specific hormonal differences between females and males but also the size and shape and stiffness of blood vessels and organs between females and males.
“Additional research is needed in this area so that we can better prevent cardiovascular risk and better optimize treatment of cardiovascular disease in this population,” she said.
Cheng says there’s still much to learn about the differences in men’s and women’s cardiovascular systems.
“We are hoping this research helps to raise awareness around the fact that women and men have intrinsic differences in biology and physiology that extend well beyond the effects hormones — and that these intrinsic differences do tend to impact the way women and men respond differently to exposures and treatments,” she said.
“We generally consider women to present with less severe forms of the most common types of cardiovascular disease, and they tend to present later in life when compared to men,” Cheng added.
“We are becoming increasingly aware that the truth is probably not so simple.”