Why do men develop coronary heart disease earlier than women?

Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Family Practitioner

For many years, coronary heart disease was widely believed to be a man's disease. We now know that being a woman does not protect you from coronary heart disease, although it may delay symptoms. Men typically develop the disease after age 45, ten years earlier than women do. High levels of estrogen protect women from the disease into their mid-50s, until these levels drop following menopause. After 55, the death rate for women climbs and after age 70, the death rate for women exceeds that for men.

Dr. George P. Heyrich, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

We think that women are protected from premature coronary heart disease because of their estrogen. Women can get heart disease sooner than men if they smoke, have diabetes or have high blood pressure. There tends to be a gap of about 10 years between the onset of heart disease in women versus men. And, we know it’s a growing problem in the elderly, as America ages and women tend to live longer than men on average.

You hear a lot about men having heart attacks in their 40s and 50s. It's uncommon and unlikely that you would hear of a woman who had a heart attack in her 40s. This is because menstruation may be protective. After women go through menopause their cholesterol profile changes and it is with these changes that their risk of developing heart disease increases. Even though the risk of heart disease may be lower in premenopausal women, there are other conditions such as pregnancy that may pose unique risks for women.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.