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Am J Physiol Heart Circ Physiol. 2018 Oct 1;315(4):H925-H933. doi: 10.1152/ajpheart.00188.2018. Epub 2018 Jun 15.

Blood pressure predicts endothelial function and the effects of ethinyl estradiol exposure in young women.

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John B. Pierce Laboratory, New Haven, Connecticut.
Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences, Yale School of Medicine , New Haven, Connecticut.
Department of Environmental Health, Nara Women's University , Nara , Japan.


Hypertension, obesity, and endothelial function predict cardiovascular disease in women, and these factors are interrelated. We hypothesized that hypertension and obesity are associated with endothelial dysfunction in young women and that short-term ethinyl estradiol exposure mitigates this dysfunction. We examined flow-mediated dilation (FMD) responses before and during 7 days of oral ethinyl estradiol (30 µg/day) in 19 women (25 ± 5, 18-35 yr). We divided our sample into two groups based on two criteria: blood pressure and obesity. Women were divided into normal blood pressure (NBP; mean arterial pressure range: 78-91 mmHg, n = 7) and high blood pressure (HBP; mean arterial pressure range: 95-113 mmHg, n = 9) groups. We also stratified our subjects by body composition (lean: 18-31%, n = 8; obese: 38-59%, n = 9). We evaluated brachial FMD after two distinct shear stress stimuli: occlusion alone and occlusion with ischemic handgrip exercise. Obesity was unrelated to both FMD responses. Before ethinyl estradiol administration, the HBP group had blunted ischemic exercise responses relative to the NBP group (8.0 ± 3.5 vs. 12.3 ± 3.2%, respectively, P = 0.05). However, during ethinyl estradiol administration, ischemic exercise responses increased in the HBP group (12.8 ± 6.1%, P = 0.04) but decreased in the NBP group (5.6 ± 2.4%, P = 0.01). Standard FMD did not reveal differences between groups. In summary, 1) moderate HBP predicted endothelial impairment, 2) ethinyl estradiol administration had divergent effects on FMD in women with NBP versus HBP, and 3) enhanced FMD (ischemic handgrip exercise) revealed differences in endothelial function, whereas standard FMD (occlusion alone) did not. NEW & NOTEWORTHY We are the first to show that mild hypertension is a stronger predictor of endothelial dysfunction than obesity in healthy women without overt cardiovascular dysfunction. Importantly, the standard 5-min flow-mediated vasodilation stimulus did not detect endothelial dysfunction in our healthy population; only an enhanced ischemic handgrip exercise shear stress stimulus detected endothelial impairment. Estradiol administration increased flow-mediated dilation in women with high blood pressure, so it may be a therapeutic intervention to improve endothelial function.


blood pressure; ethinyl estradiol; flow-mediated dilation; flow-mediated vasodilation; obesity

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