While men and women both get high blood pressure and related kidney disease, the path to get there is shorter, steeper and just different for men, researchers say.
"They may end up at the same point, but the way they got there could be very different," says Dr. Jennifer C. Sullivan, pharmacologist/physiologist at the Medical College of Georgia Vascular Biology Center.
"It's known that men tend to develop hypertension earlier than women and the increase in blood pressure occurs more rapidly than it does in women, until they hit menopause. I look at our spontaneously hypertensive rats and see the same dichotomy in blood pressure," Dr. Sullivan says of the animal model she studies. "There are also differences in development of renal injury in the human population and chronic renal disease seems to be worse in men and I see the same thing in my animal model."
She's looking at these gender differences to find what protects females, at least for much of their life, work that led to her selection for the 2007 New Investigator Award of the American Physiological Society's Water and Electrolyte Homeostasis Section. She presented her work May 1 during the Experimental Biology Meeting Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C.
Female hormones can't account for all the difference, she says. "It's not that easy. Men and women are more than just sex hormones." When she takes testicles out, for example, blood pressure and injury incidence drop some; when she takes ovaries out, blood pressure remains unchanged but kidney injury increases slightly. "There are fundamental differences, I believe, in the physiology. They are going to end up at the same point but the way there could be very different."
So she's comparing in males and females some major players in blood pressure regulation and renal injury: the potential for blood vessels to relax and constrict and the amount of damage-producing free radicals.