Scientists often see differences in disease prevalence between the male and female population, but now scientists are looking at gender differences rather than sex. In a new study from the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC), published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology,
researchers observed a connection between gender and cardiovascular risk.
For the purpose of their study, the team from the RI-MUHC defines gender like this:
“… the socially constructed roles, behaviors, expressions and identities of girls, women, boys, men, and gender diverse people.”
A survey of 1000 Canadians between the ages of 18 and 55 was conducted, and all of the participants had been hospitalized for acute coronary syndrome (ACS) between 2009 and 2013. Each participant completed an “elaborate questionnaire related to gender,” which the researchers translated into a gender index of 1 to 100. The questionnaire included a variety of questions pertaining to societal traditions of gender. Then, the scientists could designate how strongly each participant, regardless of biological sex (male and female), identified with certain socially constructed feminine or masculine characteristics.
The results showed that the more a participant showed “personality traits ascribed to women,” the higher his or her risk was of an ACS recurrence. As defined by the American Heart Association
, ACS is an umbrella term for any event where “blood supplied to the heart muscle is suddenly blocked.” This includes heart attack and unstable angina.
The team conducting this study believes that the increased cardiovascular risk for participants identifying with a certain gender comes from chronic anxiety.
"There are likely multiple reasons to explain the presence of increased anxiety in men and women with characteristics traditionally ascribed to women in our sample,” said the study's lead author, Dr. Louise Pilote, Director of the General Internal Medicine division at the MUHC and Professor of Medicine at McGill University. “For example, financial difficulties and/or the need to manage housework, child care, and work may represent a daily burden and chronic anxiety may result."
For now, the results from this study highlight an important message for prevention, providing support for doctors to consider more people than just biologically female patients to be at risk for anxiety-related cardiovascular problems.