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A Gender Difference In Heart Disease

When the researchers used ultrasound and other more sophisticated techniques to examine their arteries, they found that many actually had abnormalities. The women also tended to score higher on certain tests, such as those measuring levels of inflammation.

The researchers emphasized that many women do have the same kind of heart disease that afflicts men, and they benefit from the same preventive measures and treatments that help men -- a healthy diet and weight, regular exercise, and lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels. But the WISE findings could help explain some of the disparities between the sexes and should alert both women and their doctors to the alternative manifestations of the disease, they said.

Although the researchers remain uncertain why women are prone to this form of the disease, it could be that hormonal or genetic differences change how their arteries react.

The study has also begun to identify new ways to identify women with the condition. A relatively simple questionnaire that gauges their ability to perform daily activities, for example, appears highly useful for identifying women with the condition who are at risk for suffering a heart attack or death, the researchers reported.

While it remains unclear how best to treat the condition, research suggests that certain drugs, such as those that reduce inflammation, may be useful.

Other researchers said the findings potentially fill an important gap in understanding a major health problem.

"I think this could help save a lot of lives," said Sharonne N. Hayes of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. "This could help lead to better ways to diagnose and treat heart disease in women."

But some cautioned that the findings raised more questions than they answered and said much more research is needed.

"We need to be careful about research comparing women to men that involved only women," said Lori Mosca of Columbia University. "This could be very important to understanding heart disease in women, but we need to do more research that involves both men and women."

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