Cardiovascular Disease in Women: From Pathophysiology to Novel and Emerging Risk Factors

Heart Lung Circ. 2021 Jan;30(1):9-17. doi: 10.1016/j.hlc.2020.05.108. Epub 2020 Jul 6.


Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in Australian women, as well as men, with clear disparities in treatment and outcomes between the sexes. Moreover, disease pathophysiology differs between the sexes, with women more likely to suffer from microvascular coronary disease, endothelial dysfunction and heart failure with preserved ejection fraction, as compared to men, who are more likely to experience macrovascular disease or heart failure with reduced ejection fraction. Evidence suggests that both traditional and novel cardiovascular risk factors are often under-recognised and under-treated in women. Certain 'traditional' risk factors, including diabetes mellitus and smoking, may also portend a greater risk of cardiovascular disease in women than men. Furthermore, a number of female-specific risk factors have been identified as increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease in women, including pre-term delivery, pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes, and polycystic ovary syndrome. Currently, these factors are not included in primary prevention risk stratification tools, nor are they routinely considered in a cardiovascular assessment at a clinical level. This represents a missed opportunity, as early identification may allow for risk factor modification and possible amelioration of the disease burden. This review explores the role of traditional, sex-specific and novel risk factors for cardiovascular disease in women, in addition to pathophysiological differences between the sexes, and contributing societal and behavioural factors. These differences argue strongly for a 'precision medicine' approach to cardiovascular disease that includes sex as a key component.

Keywords: Cardiovascular disease; Risk factors; Women.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cardiovascular Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Global Health
  • Hemodynamics / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Risk Assessment / methods*
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Factors
  • Women's Health*