Sex-specific effects of stress on metabolic and cardiovascular disease: are women at higher risk?

Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2017 Jul 1;313(1):R1-R9. doi: 10.1152/ajpregu.00185.2016. Epub 2017 May 3.


Cardiovascular disease (CVD) has traditionally been viewed as a male disease; however, the relative risk for obesity and hypertension morbidity and mortality, major risk factors for CVD, is higher for women in the United States. Emerging epidemiological data strongly support stressful experiences as a modifiable risk factor for obesity, insulin resistance, and heart disease in women at all ages. Therefore, primary prevention of these diseases may be associated with both identifying and increasing the knowledge regarding the sex differences in emotional functioning associated with physiological responses to stress. The purpose of this review is to highlight the growing body of clinical and experimental studies showing that stress, obesity-associated metabolic disturbances, and CVD comorbidities are more prevalent in females. Overall, this review reveals the need for investigations to decipher the early origins of these comorbidities. Targeting the sources of behavioral/emotional stress through the trajectory of life has the potential to reduce the alarming projected rates for chronic disease in women.

Keywords: cardiovascular disease; obesity; sex differences; stress; stress models in rodents.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Cardiovascular Diseases / complications
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / etiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Metabolic Diseases / complications
  • Metabolic Diseases / etiology*
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Factors
  • Stress, Physiological / physiology*