High blood pressure is potentially more dangerous for women than men, according to a new study that suggests physicians may need to treat the condition both earlier and more aggressively in their female patients.
Published in the journal Therapeutic Advances in Cardiovascular Disease, the study is the first to identify major differences between men and women when it comes to the mechanisms that contribute to high blood pressure.
The report comes after a significant decline in deaths due to heart disease for men only during the last 20-30 years. Reports published by the American Heart Association reveal that between 2004 and 2010 alone, death rates dropped for white and black males from 335 and 454 per 100,000 deaths, respectively, to 278 and 369. Meanwhile, heart disease has become the leading cause of death for women in the United States, accounting for one out every four female deaths in 2009, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Given that men and women are treated the same way for the condition, researchers from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center began looking for an answer for this visible divide.
"The medical community thought that high blood pressure was the same for both sexes and treatment was based on that premise," said Dr. Carlos Ferrario, professor of surgery at Wake Forest Baptist and lead author of the study.
Their findings reveal otherwise.
The team evaluated 100 men and women, all of whom were 53 years old or older and who suffered from untreated high blood pressure. The tests, which could be performed in a doctor's office, measured the forces behind blood circulation and the hormonal nature of the mechanisms behind the development of high blood pressure in men and women.
The results uncovered 30-40 percent more vascular disease in the female participants when compared to their male counterparts with the same blood pressure. The researchers also detected differences in the women's cardiovascular system, such as the types and levels of hormones involved with blood pressure regulation and that have to do with the severity and frequency of heart disease.
"Our findings clearly suggest an eminent need to address whether it will be necessary to tailor treatment as a function of gender," Ferrario told Nature World News in an email, adding that he hopes his team's study will trigger new research on the subject.
In regards to the limited number of studies on the subject, the researcher lamented that, despite the American Heart Association's efforts to draw attention to the subject, an "acknowledged paucity" has remained.
"The American Heart Association is doing a laudable job in raising awareness of these issues; yet the absence of specific studies on this subject continues to handicap the development of specific guidelines that will make physicians more aware of the need to evaluate the role of gender in the response to treatment," he said.
That the male and female physiological responses to blood pressure differ from one another is "not surprising," cardiologist Dr. Nieca Goldberg said in an email, noting that reports like these are key if the medical world is ever to account for those differences in terms of treatment. Though not part of the study, Goldberg has long been a vocal proponent of the need to treat men and women differently, publishing the book "Women Are Not Small Men: Life-Saving Strategies for Preventing and Healing Heart Disease in Women" in 2002.
"This is the type of research that is a building block for future studies," she said, "that may lead the way for better blood pressure control as we will one day be able to choose medications based on these physiologic differences."
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