Background: Cardiovascular disease has been the leading cause of death in both sexes in developed countries for decades. In general, men and women share the same cardiovascular risk factors. However, in recent trials including both men and women sexspecific analyses have raised awareness of sex differences in cardiovascular risk factors due to both biological and cultural differences.
Results: Women experience their first myocardial infarction (MI) 6-10 years later than men and a protective effect of their natural estrogen status prior to menopause has been suggested. Female sex hormones have been associated with a less atherogenic lipid profile and a more healthy fat distribution. These differences are attenuated following menopause. Regarding life style the prevalence of smoking is highest in men but female smokers have a relatively higher cardiovascular risk than male smokers. Men are more physically active than women while women have healthier dietary habits. Genetic factors also affect cardiovascular risk but no sex differences have been seen. Increased cardiovascular risk attributed to psychosocial distress is similar in men and women, but since women are more prone to psychosocial distress their burden of disease is greater. Compared with a healthy population the relative risk of MI in a diabetic population is higher in women than in men. No sex difference exists in the prevalence of hypertension but it has an earlier onset in men.
Conclusion: Sex differences in cardiovascular risk are becoming more apparent and paying attention to this is pivotal when addressing risk factors in preventive efforts.
Keywords: Cardiovascular disease. Atherosclerosis, Myocardial infarction, Sex differences, Cardiovascular risk factors, Psychosocial risk factors.