Coronary artery disease: Are men and women created equal?

Arnon Blum, Nava Blum

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


Background: Ischemic heart disease in women is a difficult issue in cardiovascular medicine, mainly because of our lack of understanding of the early-stage mechanisms and symptoms. A better and earlier understanding of the pathophysiology of coronary artery disease (CAD) in women will enable us to detect ischemic heart disease earlier and prevent adverse clinical outcomes. Objectives: The aims of this article were to describe the phenomenon of ischemic heart disease in women, increase awareness of the difference between men and women in relation to ischemic heart disease, improve our understanding of the mechanisms that cause this difference, and identify new approaches for better and earlier detection and treatment of CAD in women. Methods: We conducted a search of the PubMed database for double-blind studies on the mechanistic pathways of CAD in women published in English within the past 10 years and epidemiologic studies published since 1970. Search terms included women and coronary artery disease and ischemic heart disease in women. Results: The literature search revealed 30 peer-reviewed articles pertaining to this issue. The incidence of CAD was markedly lower in women <60 years of age than in older women. After 60 years of age, the rate of CAD increased and reached the rate seen among men by the 8th decade of life. The gender difference in atherosclerosis in the coronary tree was particularly large in patients <55 years of age and remained large at older ages. The gender difference in the coronary bed was strikingly larger than in other vascular beds. Intensive risk-factor modification had a similar effect on plaque progression in both men and women. Coronary endothelial dysfunction appeared to be related to cardiovascular morbidity and mortality in women as well as in men, and because endothelial dysfunction could be modified, it appeared that the prognosis could be improved by appropriate management. A strong association was found between body mass index (BMI) and metabolic status, but only the metabolic syndrome was associated with CAD. Physical activity was independently associated with fewer risk factors, less CAD, and fewer adverse events in women; however, obesity was not associated with these outcomes. Conclusions: Results of the identified studies suggest that reduction of risk factors is a common approach to fighting heart disease in both sexes. It appears that for women, weight and BMI are not as important as previously thought, but physical exercise and fitness are very important and can change risk factors and clinical outcomes more than any other known intervention. Data suggest that global inflammation may play an important role in women and may predict cardiovascular outcome in women much better than the traditional risk factors that have been used and proved for men.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)410-418
Number of pages9
JournalGender Medicine
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • BMI
  • endothelial progenitor stem cells
  • exercise
  • ischemic heart disease in women
  • metabolic syndrome


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