Sex differences in hypertension: contribution of the renin-angiotensin system

Gend Med. 2012 Aug;9(4):287-91. doi: 10.1016/j.genm.2012.06.005. Epub 2012 Jul 12.

Abstract

Numerous studies have shown that female human beings exhibit lower blood pressure levels over much of their life span compared with their age-matched counterparts. This sexual dimorphism is apparent in human beings as well as most, if not all, mammals. However, after the onset of menopause blood pressure levels in women increase and become similar to those in men, suggesting an important role of sex hormones in the regulation of blood pressure. The lower blood pressure levels in premenopausal women are associated with a lower risk of development and progression of cardiovascular disease and hypertension compared with age-matched men. This clear female advantage with respect to lower incidence of cardiovascular disease no longer exists after menopause, again highlighting the importance of sex hormones in the pathophysiology of cardiovascular disease in both men and women. In fact, both estrogens and androgens have been implicated in the development of cardiovascular disease and hypertension, with estrogens, in general, being protective and androgens being detrimental. Although the exact mechanisms by which sex hormones contribute to the regulation of cardiovascular function and blood pressure are still being investigated, there is increasing evidence that modulating the activity of locally active hormonal systems is one of the major mechanisms of sex hormone actions in target organs, including the vasculature and kidneys. Indeed, several studies have demonstrated the importance of the interaction between sex hormones and the renin-angiotensin system in regulating cardiovascular function and blood pressure. Furthermore, the differential effects of estrogens and androgens on the expression and activity of the components of the renin-angiotensin system could possibly explain the sex differences in blood pressure levels and the development and progression of cardiovascular disease and hypertension.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Angiotensin II / physiology*
  • Estrogens / physiology*
  • Female
  • Hemodynamics / physiology
  • Humans
  • Hypertension / physiopathology*
  • Male
  • Renin / physiology
  • Renin-Angiotensin System / physiology*
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Sex Factors
  • Testosterone / physiology*

Substances

  • Estrogens
  • Angiotensin II
  • Testosterone
  • Renin