When you encounter research that concludes that men are twice as likely as women to have a heart attack, it might lead you to think that men are, generally, more at risk for heart disease. There is some truth to this statement, but you should also consider that heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States, at one in four deaths for men and one in five deaths for women.
To better explain the gender difference when it comes to heart disease, Dr. Farhad Aduli and the team here at Louisiana Heart and Vascular, pulled together the following information.
The role of hormones
Men tend to develop heart disease earlier than women, and this may be due to the fact that women are somewhat protected by estrogen and progesterone until they pass through menopause. While these hormones are largely responsible for reproductive duties, they also boost blood vessel health.
Since men only produce small amounts of estrogen and progesterone, they aren’t afforded this same protection. Instead, men rely on testosterone, which can also affect cardiovascular health. One study found that testosterone levels start to decrease after age 40, and this decrease has been found to be “associated with an increase in all-cause mortality and cardiovascular risk.”
One of the biggest risk factors when it comes to heart disease is the buildup of cholesterol in blood vessels. Of the nearly 12% of people aged 20 and older in the United States who have high cholesterol (more than 240 deciliters per milligram), the numbers are fairly evenly split between men and women.
That said, men have larger hearts and blood vessels than women do, and cholesterol tends to accumulate and form plaques in the major arteries. In women, cholesterol buildup is often found in smaller blood vessels.
Differences in body fat
One of the predictors for serious heart disease is carrying extra fat around your middle. When it comes to fat distribution, there are some differences between men and women. Women tend to carry excess fat around their abdomens and pelvises, while men carry the fat mostly in their bellies.
Dealing with stress
Another gender difference may lie in how men and women handle stress. When you experience chronic stress, your blood pressure can become elevated, and the flow of blood to your heart can become restricted.
While both men and women experience chronic stress, studies suggest that women are more apt to internalize disorders, while men externalize their symptoms, sometimes in the form of aggression. One reason this can be problematic is that evidence suggests that in the two hours after an angry outburst, a person’s heart attack risk is nearly five times higher, and a person’s stroke risk is three times higher.
The bottom line is that heart disease is a clear and present danger for both sexes, but men do have some heightened risks in certain areas.
The best way to find out whether you’re more at risk for heart disease is to come see us for a cardiology consultation.
To get started, book an appointment online or over the phone with Louisiana Heart and Vascular today. We’re located in Covington and Franklinton, Louisiana, and we also serve patients from Mandeville, Hammond, and Slidell.