Sex differences in the heart
Press release issued: 15 July 2005
New research has identified a potential key to understanding the sex differences in heart function. This exciting development could minimise fatal heart disturbances in women. It is widely accepted that men tend to get coronary heart disease at a younger age than women. However, many people are not aware that heart disease is more deadly for women.
This fascinating insight into sex differences in heart function will be unveiled at The University of Bristol on Thursday July 21 at the joint meeting of the Physiological Society of the UK and Ireland, and the Federation of European Physiological Societies.
It is widely accepted that men tend to get coronary heart disease at a younger age than women. However, many people are not aware that heart disease is more deadly for women.
Each year, over eight million women worldwide die from heart disease or strokes, the highest cause of death amongst women. In developing countries, half of all deaths of women over 50 are due to heart disease and strokes .
This brand new research by Professor Meyer and Dr Grohe from the University of Bonn, points to the oestrogen receptor (ERalpha) as having a key influence in female heart function. The research shows that if females lack the ERalpha receptor, the electrical property of heart function closely mirrors that of males.
Dr Andy James, lecturer in physiology at Bristol University and convener for the cardiac symposium at the conference comments: "What Professor Meyer and Dr Grohe will show us is that one of the two oestrogen receptors, ER-Alpha, plays an important role in male/female differences in electrical properties of the heart muscle. This could help us understand the gender difference and how we can isolate and potentially minimise the risk to women."
According to the scientists there are also important differences between men and women in their chance of suffering potentially fatal disturbances to the normal heart rhythm (arrhythmias). Arrhythmias are the result of disruption to the electrical properties of the heart. There are many different forms of arrhythmia and they have different causes.
There are gender differences in a number of different forms of arrhythmia. For example, women are three times more likely than men of suffering a form of arrhythmia associated with unwanted drug side-effects that can also arise from inheritance of faulty genes.
This difference between men and women in heart beat irregularity is associated with sex differences in the QT intervals (intervals between signals within each heart beat) measured by electrocardiograph (ECG). It is well established that testosterone in males plays a key role in this gender difference.
Dr James continues: "This is a departure from the currently well publicised but controversial suggestion that oestrogen protects women against heart disease. It is also suggests that the view that sex differences in risk of heart rhythm disturbance is all down to testosterone may be overly simplistic.
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Dr James added: "With a more thorough understanding of sex difference in the maintenance of normal heart rhythm, we will be able to develop gender-specific therapies. We will be able to capitalise on the new understanding of the sex hormone function in the heart by producing medication that matches the different requirements currently faced by men and women."
Professor Meyer and Dr Grohe will be presenting their research findings at the University of Bristol on Thursday 21 July. The Conference runs from 20 July to 23 July 2005.