Ischaemic heart disease in women: are there sex differences in pathophysiology and risk factors? Position paper from the working group on coronary pathophysiology and microcirculation of the European Society of Cardiology

Cardiovasc Res. 2011 Apr 1;90(1):9-17. doi: 10.1093/cvr/cvq394. Epub 2010 Dec 14.


Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death in women, and knowledge of the clinical consequences of atherosclerosis and CVD in women has grown tremendously over the past 20 years. Research efforts have increased and many reports on various aspects of ischaemic heart disease (IHD) in women have been published highlighting sex differences in pathophysiology, presentation, and treatment of IHD. Data, however, remain limited. A description of the state of the science, with recognition of the shortcomings of current data, is necessary to guide future research and move the field forward. In this report, we identify gaps in existing literature and make recommendations for future research. Women largely share similar cardiovascular risk factors for IHD with men; however, women with suspected or confirmed IHD have less coronary atherosclerosis than men, even though they are older and have more cardiovascular risk factors than men. Coronary endothelial dysfunction and microvascular disease have been proposed as important determinants in the aetiology and prognosis of IHD in women, but research is limited on whether sex differences in these mechanisms truly exist. Differences in the epidemiology of IHD between women and men remain largely unexplained, as we are still unable to explain why women are protected towards IHD until older age compared with men. Eventually, a better understanding of these processes and mechanisms may improve the prevention and the clinical management of IHD in women.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Coronary Circulation*
  • Europe / epidemiology
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Female
  • Health Status Disparities*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Microcirculation*
  • Myocardial Ischemia / epidemiology
  • Myocardial Ischemia / etiology*
  • Myocardial Ischemia / physiopathology*
  • Myocardial Ischemia / prevention & control
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Factors
  • Societies, Medical