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After a 10 year study of 3000 people, researchers have made the surprising discovery that hearts age differently in men and women.
We need personalised medicine
We know people age differently, both inside and outside. This is down to a complex interplay of genetics and environment, which leads to significant variation in the aging process for all of us. What we didn’t expect was that such a striking difference would emerge between the genders. So what does this mean? Could there be more we’re missing?
Science is already difficult, so it can be tempting to lump groups together. Gender and sex are also incredibly variable areas of biology, but after a long-term, 10 year analysis of 3000 people, the results are in and we may need to rethink how to approach heart disease in each gender.
What differences emerged?
While previous work has compared old and young hearts at a specific time, for this study researchers compared MRI scans taken over the decade in individuals; mapping their changes over time.
“The shape of the heart changes over time in both men and women, but the patterns of change are different. Men’s hearts tend to get heavier and the amount of blood they hold is less, while women’s hearts don’t get heavier.”
In both sexes a chamber in the heart called the left ventricle gets smaller. This matters because this chamber is responsible for pushing oxygen rich blood fresh from the lungs to the rest of the body. This change forces the heart to work harder and raises blood pressure. While the ventricle shrinks in both sexes, researchers hadn’t expect to find such a big difference in how it shrinks. They found in men the heart thickens and encroaches on the space, but in women this wasn’t the case. In the female heart, the walls stayed the same or started to thin, but the shape began to change.
“Our results are a striking demonstration of the concept that heart disease may have different pathophysiology in men and women and of the need for tailored treatments that address such important biologic differences”
The surprising discovery is a reminder of how sorely needed personalised medicine is, and that we need to start looking at sex differences more carefully – especially in cardiovascular disease.
Read more at The Huffington Post