Sex differences in coronary atherosclerosis during the pre- and postmenopausal period: The Tampere Sudden Death Study

Emma Hakamaa, Sirkka Goebeler, Mika Martiskainen, Anne-Mari Louhelainen, Katja Ahinko, Terho Lehtimäki, Pekka Karhunen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Background and aims: Women are believed to be protected from coronary heart disease (CHD) by the effects of estrogen but detailed studies on the vessel wall level are missing. We aimed to measure sex differences in atherosclerosis during the premenopausal and postmenopausal periods directly at the coronary arteries. Methods: We analyzed statistics for sex differences in CHD mortality in Finland in 2020. Coronary atherosclerosis was measured using computer-assisted morphometry in 10-year age groups of 185 white Caucasian women and 515 men from the Tampere Sudden Death Study. Results: CHD mortality was rare in both women and men before 50 years of age. After 50 years of age, male mortality increased rapidly, with women reaching equal levels in the oldest age groups. In the autopsy series, there were no differences in fatty streak, fibrotic or calcified plaque areas, nor in the plaque area or stenosis percentage in coronary arteries between premenopausal women and men in the same age group. The plaque area remained 25 % smaller in both coronaries in postmenopausal women aged 51–70 years compared to men. In the oldest postmenopausal group (≥70 years), plaque area reached the level of men. In the postmenopausal period, coronary stenosis in the left anterior descending (LAD) artery remained lower among women. Conclusion: We did not detect any major sex-difference in coronary atherosclerosis in the premenopausal period when women are considered to be protected from CHD. However, in line with CHD mortality statistics, postmenopausal women showed a slower speed of coronary atherosclerosis development compared to men.

Original languageEnglish
Article number117459
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2024
Publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Atherosclerosis
  • Autopsy Study
  • Coronary Heart Disease
  • Menopause
  • Women's Health

Publication forum classification

  • Publication forum level 2

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine


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