Heart Disease: Why Sex Matters

Researchers in Dallas found when it comes to heart disease, differences between men and women matter.

For example, men are more likely to develop plaque build up in the arteries of heart while women develop plaque buildup in the arteries in the leg.

UT Southwestern Medical Center research shows biological differences that lead to variations in heart disease between men and women are far more complex than just differences in hormones. 

Researchers say standards need to be developed for treatment of heart disease in women.

"What we do right now is we treat all heart disease the same, without real appreciation for sex-based differences," said Dr. James De Lemos, UTSW Professor of Internal Medicine. 

UT Southwestern researchers examined sex differences among 30 biological markers in 3,439 individuals. 

They found significant sex-based differences in lipids, fat hormones, markers of inflammation and artery health, and indicators of muscle damage and kidney function.

Right now, levels used to diagnose heart disease are exactly the same for men and women, but scientists found that there should sex-specific levels of these markers to better characterize which women could have a heart attacks and heart failure.

"What we really hope is that we can stimulate more research so we can start  to identify the biology of what's different between men and women in heart disease. That could then lead to specific treatment to prevent heart disease in women," said De Lemos.

Courtney Alexander, 33, wonders if different risk factors outlined for women could have helped she and doctors identify her heart attack.

"They ran some musculoskeletal tests and said 'well it could be your heart but you're young, you don't have any risk factors,'" said Alexander. "If I would have known the symptoms, I might have been able to express myself better in the emergency room and be able to say 'hey, I think this possible could be a heart thing going on.'"

Men are more likely to develop congestive heart failure at ages under 55, but more women develop heart failure overall.

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