The hearts of men and women grow old in different ways

According to a study published in the journal Radiology, the main pumping chamber of the heart ages differently in men and women.

The authors of the MRI study say the findings could pave the way for personalised treatment for men and women with heart disease.

The size of the left ventricle — the chamber of the heart responsible for pumping blood — is an indicator of cardiovascular health. If a person has high blood pressure, or other heart conditions, the ventricle walls can become thicker than usual because they have to work harder to perform the same function.

Left ventricular mass changes with age, and so previous studies have struggled to make accurate comparisons between test subjects. In this study, researchers assessed long-term changes in the same person and compared their results with data obtained at a later date.

The researchers gathered data from 2,935 participants who were free of clinical cardiovascular disease, and ranged in age from 54 to 94 years old. The median follow-up time was 9.5 years.

John Eng, the study’s lead author, said:

‘We had the opportunity to re-examine the same people after 10 years so that we could see what happened to their hearts after a decade. This is a more reliable way to assess left ventricular changes over time. While both men and women had decreases in left ventricular volume, left ventricular mass increased in men and decreased slightly in women.

‘The shape of the heart changes over time in both men and women, but the patterns of change are different. Men’s hearts tend to get heavier and the amount of blood they hold is less, while women’s hearts don’t get heavier.’

The study’s authors say that the reasons for this disparity will require further research. The results suggest that optimum treatment for heart failure may differ between men and women.

Dr Eng said: ‘We’ve been talking a lot lately about personalised medicine, and here’s an example where perhaps men and women might have to be treated differently.’