Acute vascular effects of estrogen in postmenopausal women.
BACKGROUND Although hormone replacement therapy has been associated with reduction of cardiovascular events in postmenopausal women, the mechanisms that mediate this apparent benefit are unclear. Because improvement in vasomotor function may represent one of the beneficial effects of estrogen administration, we investigated the acute effects of physiological levels of estrogen on the vascular responses of estrogen-deficient postmenopausal women.
METHODS AND RESULTS The study included 40 postmenopausal women 60 +/- 8 years old (mean +/- SD), 20 of whom had one or more conditions associated with vascular dysfunction (hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, diabetes, or coronary artery disease). The forearm vascular responses to the endothelium-dependent vasodilator acetylcholine were studied before and during infusion of 17 beta-estradiol into the ipsilateral brachial artery. In 31 subjects, the effect of estradiol on the responses to the endothelium-independent vasodilator sodium nitroprusside was also studied. Women with risk factors for vascular dysfunction had significantly reduced vasodilator responses to acetylcholine (P = .01) and to sodium nitroprusside (P < .001) compared with healthy subjects. Intra-arterial infusion of 17 beta-estradiol increased the forearm venous estradiol concentration from 16 +/- 10 to 318 +/- 188 pg/mL, levels typical of reproductive-age women at midcycle, but caused no vasodilation. However, estradiol potentiated the forearm vasodilation induced by acetylcholine by 18 +/- 30% (P < .001) in women with risk factors for vascular dysfunction and by 14 +/- 23% (P = .03) in healthy women. Estradiol also potentiated the forearm vasodilation induced by sodium nitroprusside in women with risk factors for vascular dysfunction by 14 +/- 21% (P < .001) but not in healthy women.
CONCLUSIONS Physiological levels of 17 beta-estradiol selectively potentiate endothelium-dependent vasodilation in healthy postmenopausal women and potentiate both endothelium-dependent and endothelium-independent vasodilation in post-menopausal women with risk factors for atherosclerosis and evidence of impaired vascular function. These vascular effects may be partly responsible for the long-term benefit of estrogen therapy on cardiovascular events in postmenopausal women.
- Copyright © 1994 by American Heart Association