Background: Although cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death in women in the United States, a knowledge gap persists regarding the mechanisms and management of CVD in women. Before treatment can be optimized, the role of cardiovascular risk factors must be elucidated. Objective: This review provides an updated assessment of cardiovascular risk factors in women, with a focus on cardiometabolic risk. Methods: MEDLINE and Cochrane Library databases, and statistics from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and the American Heart Association, were searched from 1990 to September 2008 using the following terms: cardiovascular risk factors, women, gender, cardiometabolic risk, abdominal obesity, and metabolic syndrome. Publications were classified as English-only original data, reviews, and clinical guidelines. Nonpublished data were excluded. Data were extracted by 2 reviewers independently. Results: Investigators performing multivariable predictive models have estimated that traditional risk factors account for ~70% of the variance in estimating cardiovascular events. However, substantial sex differences exist in the prevalence of traditional risk factors as well as in cardiovascular outcomes. Hypertension is more prevalent in men until the age of 59 years, but then contributes to greater morbidity in older women. Low levels of high-density lipoprotein and elevated triglyceride levels pose more of a threat to women, yet high levels of low-density lipoprotein pose equal risk for women and men. The CVD mortality rate is -3 times greater in people with diabetes than in those without diabetes. Among diabetic individuals, CVD mortality is slightly higher in women compared with men. Conclusions: Increased knowledge of gender-specific risks for CVD has led to national campaigns to educate women. In addition to traditional risk factors, cardiometabolic risk is an important consideration in women. Controversy exists regarding the exact definitions and usefulness of the term metabolic syndrome, but it is clear that the presence of certain factors contributes to increased morbidity and mortality in affected individuals. Abdominal obesity links insulin resistance, dyslipidemia, and hypertension through complex endocrine pathways. Current research is identifying gene × gender interactions, and continued research is necessary to explore the relationship of sex steroids and cardiovascular risk in both men and women.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)17-36
Number of pages20
JournalGender Medicine
Issue numberSUPPL. 1
StatePublished - 2009


  • cardiac risk factors
  • cardiometabolic risk
  • cardiovascular mortality
  • gender
  • metabolic syndrome
  • review


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