Women's blood vessels age faster than men's: Study

The study could change ways women are treated for high blood pressure.

New research shows for the first time that women's blood vessels, both large and small arteries, age at a faster rate than men's.

The findings, published Wednesday in JAMA Cardiology, challenge the long-held belief that vascular disease and cardiovascular risk in women lags behind men by up to 20 years, concluding that certain vascular changes in women actually develop earlier and progress faster in women compared to men.

"We were inspired to take a much closer look at blood pressure trajectories over the life course in women compared to men because, at the end of the day, the vast majority of cardiovascular disease processes tend to start with blood pressure elevation as a major driving risk factor," said Dr. Susan Cheng, director of public health research at the Smidt Heart Institute at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, and senior author on the study.

The study looked at nearly 145,000 blood pressure measurements from more than 32,000 people, ranging in age from 5 to 98, over the course of four decades.

Researchers found that blood pressure started increasing in women as early as 30, and continued to rise higher than blood pressure in men throughout the women's life span.

"Our findings suggest that all the ways by which we think about and aim to prevent or treat high blood pressure likely needs to be more tailored, for women," Cheng said.

Krakoff, a cardiologist at The Mount Sinai Hospital, said the study highlights the importance of noting trends in your own blood pressure and monitoring it for a rise earlier in life.

"Lifestyle modifications such as regular exercise, eating a heart healthy diet, and avoiding smoking as well as excessive alcohol use are the first things women can do if a rise in blood pressure is seen," said Krakoff, who was not involved in the study.

Dr. Nieca Goldberg, a cardiologist and the medical director for the NYU Women's Heart Program and the senior adviser for women's health strategy at NYU Langone Health, said in an interview with ABC News, "In this country, only 20% of the women that have high blood pressure are controlled, which is sad since we have medications that are proven effective in controlling blood pressure."

One of the reasons Goldberg, who was not involved in the study, cited for patients not taking their blood pressure medications is that people stop taking them if their blood pressure improves. Treating blood pressure is not like treating a pneumonia or cough, patients must continue to take blood pressure medication for them to be effective.

"We need to be more vigilant, because when high blood pressure is treated it is a way of preventing other diseases, like stroke, heart attacks and heart failure," Goldberg said.

Dr. Manavjeet Sidhu, MD, MBA, is a chief resident physician in emergency medicine and contributor to the ABC News Medical Unit.