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Update on cardiovascular disease in post-menopausal women.

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Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University MacDonald Women's Hospital, Cleveland, Ohio 44106, USA.


Cardiovascular disease (CVD), and in particular coronary artery heart disease (CAHD), is the leading cause of morbidity and mortality in women. Until recently, most of our knowledge about the pathophysiology of CVD in women - and, subsequently, management guidelines - were based on studies conducted mostly in men. While similar mechanisms operate to induce CVD in women and men, gender-related differences exist in the anatomy and physiology of the myocardium, and sex hormones modify the course of disease in women. Women, more than men, have their initial manifestation of CAHD as angina pectoris; are likely to be referred for diagnostic tests at a more advanced stage of disease, and are less likely than men to have corrective invasive procedures. The overall morbidity and mortality following the initial ischaemic heart event is worse in women, and the case fatality rate is greater in women than in men. Also, the relative impact of impaired vasoreactivity of the coronary artery, increased viscosity of the blood and dysregulation of automaticity and arrhythmia, is greater in women than in men. The most effective means of decreasing the impact of CVD on women's health is by an active approach from childhood to proper principles of healthcare in order to modify the contribution of specific risk factors. The latter include obesity, abnormal plasma lipid profile, hypertension, diabetes mellitus, cigarette smoking, sedentary lifestyle, increased blood viscosity, augmented platelet aggregability, stress and autonomic imbalance. The use of lipid-lowering drugs has not been adequately studied in women but reports from studies conducted mostly in men do predict an advantage also to women. Oestrogen deficiency after spontaneous or medically induced menopause is an important risk factor for CVD and CAHD. Observational and mechanistic data suggest a role for oestrogen replacement after menopause for primary, and possibly secondary, prevention of CVD. However, two recent prospective trials suggest that treatment de novo with hormone replacement of older post-menopausal women after an acute coronary event may not confer cardiovascular protection and may increase the risk of thromboembolic disease. Results of ongoing long-term studies may determine the beneficial role of hormone replacement versus potential risks involved with this treatment.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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