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NEW FINDINGS: What is the topic of this review? Hypertension is a major problem in Western society. Risk of hypertension increases with age, especially in women, who have lower risk compared with men until menopause. This review outlines the sex differences in the sympathetic control of blood pressure and how these mechanisms change with age. What advances does it highlight? It has recently been recognized that men and women regulate blood pressure by different physiological mechanisms. This is important for both the understanding and the clinical management of individual patients with hypertension. This review summarizes recent advances in understanding how the regulation of blood pressure in hypertension by the sympathetic nervous system differs between men and women. The sympathetic nervous system has a central role in the regulation of arterial blood pressure (BP) and in the development of hypertension in humans. Recent evidence points to differences between the sexes in the integrative mechanisms by which BP is controlled, suggesting that the development of hypertension may follow distinct pathways in women compared with men. An important aspect of sympathetic control of BP is its substantial interindividual variability. In healthy young men, the variability in sympathetic nerve activity (SNA) is balanced by variability in cardiac output and vascular adrenergic responses, such that BP remains similar, and normal, across a severalfold range of resting SNA values. In young women, variability in resting SNA is similar to that seen in men, but the 'balancing' mechanisms are strikingly different; women exhibit greater β-adrenergic vasodilatation compared with men, which minimizes the pressor effects of a given level of SNA. Ageing is associated with increased SNA and a loss of the balancing factors seen in younger people, leading to an increased risk of hypertension in older people. Loss of oestrogen with menopause in women appears to be linked mechanistically with the decrease in β-adrenergic vasodilatation and the increased risk of hypertension in older women. Other important factors contributing to hypertension via sympathetic mechanisms are obesity and arterial stiffening, both of which increase with ageing. We conclude with a discussion of important areas in which more work is needed to understand and manage appropriately the sex-specific mechanisms in the development and maintenance of hypertension.

Original publication




Journal article


Exp Physiol

Publication Date





219 - 229


Aging, Blood Pressure, Cardiac Output, Humans, Hypertension, Sex Characteristics, Sympathetic Nervous System, Vasodilation