Delaware Public Media

UD researchers dissecting correlation between estrogen levels and heart disease

Sep 27, 2016

As women age, their risk for cardiovascular disease becomes higher than men. According to, it kills one in three women each year and affects over 44 million women in the United States.

University of Delaware Physiologist Megan Wenner wants to understand the role changes in estrogen play in leading to this higher risk of heart disease.


"When it comes to cardiovascular disease rates, the prevalence of CVD in young women is lower than age-matched men, but this gender gap narrows as we age until about the time of Menopause," Wenner said.  

Through a grant, Wenner is studying the role that sex hormones play that lead to higher cardiovascular disease rates in Postmenopausal women. She’s also trying to understand what could change in the Postmenopausal life period for women that could cause hormone therapy to not be beneficial.


According to the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services, a Behavioral Risk Factor Survey randomly samples adults by telephone, asking them about heart attacks and coronary heart disease. About 7.1 percent of Delaware adults in this sample revealed they had been told by a doctor that they had a heart attack or coronary heart disease. This does not include fatalities. Emily Knearl from the DHSS adds that the difference between genders is not statistically significant.


Knearl said in 2015, the prevalence of heart disease among men was 8 percent and 6.3 percent among women in Delaware, but there's no statistical difference here.


"A second caution is that cardiovascular disease and heart attacks appear to be under-diagnosed among women, according to many recent studies," Knearl said in an email. "Finally, one cannot draw any conclusions about causality from survey data. That would require large clinical studies. It would be inappropriate to draw any conclusions about hormonal impact from a population-based telephone survey."


That's where Wenner's study amassing data about hormones, comes in.


“It’s been previously established that with aging there are declines in your blood vessel function," Wenner said. "It has already been established that this occurs at a faster rate in women after Menopause. We know age is an important factor. We want to do an aging comparison as well as looking at specific hormone effects as well.”


Wenner and colleagues are studying blood vessel function in young women ages 18-30 and post-menopausal women ages 50-65. They're currently trying to recruit subjects.