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Office of Research on Women's Health (ORWH)

American Heart Month

Heart Disease: NIH Studying How Women’s Hearts Are Different from Men’s

Cardiovascular disease booklet cover

Cardiovascular Disease (PDF - 1.34 MB)

This booklet presents data from the Census and other government sources.

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is an abnormal functioning of the heart or blood vessels. Heart disease is a general term for a variety of heart conditions. The most common form of heart disease in women is coronary heart disease, also called coronary artery disease because it involves the coronary arteries. Other types of CVD are hypertension, congestive heart failure, stroke, congenital cardiovascular defects, hardening or narrowing (atherosclerosis) of the blood vessels including the coronary arteries, and other diseases of the circulatory system.

People who have diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, obesity, and family members with heart disease are at higher risk for heart disease. People who smoke or do not exercise, as well as women older than 55 years are also at higher risk. (Learn more about heart disease risk at http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/educational/hearttruth/lower-risk/risk-factors.htm.)

Because women can have different symptoms of heart disease than men, serious conditions can be overlooked or inadequately treated.

NIH supports researchers who are looking at the role of sex differences in preventing, diagnosing and treating heart disease. Here are 3 examples of active research studies that the NIH Office of Research on Women’s Health supports:

  • Sex Differences in Molecular Heterogeneity of Cardiac Repolarization
    Women’s hearts are different from men’s hearts in the electrical patterns that control beating and in the frequency that certain drugs cause irregular heart rhythm as a side effect. Researchers funded by the ORWH and the NIH’s National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute are investigating how hormones affect the functioning of heart cells differently in men and women.
  • Cardiovascular Disease Biomarkers and Mediation of Hormone Therapy Effects
    Researchers are evaluating certain proteins in the blood to determine if they can predict the risk of heart disease and stroke in postmenopausal women. Learning whether changes in these proteins are a result of postmenopausal hormone therapy can help explain why different hormone therapies change the risk for these major diseases. The study could lead to new, accurate ways to predict heart disease and stroke with a simple blood test. The study also could lead to new therapies that lower risk of heart disease and stroke for postmenopausal women, whether they use hormone therapy or not.
  • Role of Androgen and Estrogen Receptor Signaling in Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension
    Idiopathic pulmonary arterial hypertension (IPAH) is a rare disorder in which high blood pressure in the lungs’ blood vessels can lead to heart failure and death. Women are 2 to 4 times more likely to develop IPAH than men, but we do not yet understand why. This “Bench to Bedside” study—a collaboration between the NIH Clinical Center, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, and the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center—is shedding light on how the hormones estrogen and testosterone contribute to the development of this disorder in men and women.

Learn more about heart disease and women’s health from these government websites:

This page last reviewed on May 13, 2013

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