Date: 13 Feb 2013

Sex differences in cardiac autonomic regulation and in repolarisation electrocardiography

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The review summarises the present knowledge on the sex differences in cardiac autonomic regulations and in related aspects of electrocardiography with particular attention to myocardial repolarisation. Although some of the sex differences are far from fully established, multitude of observations show consistent differences between women and men. Despite more pronounced parasympathetic cardiac regulation, women have higher resting heart rate and lower baroreflex sensitivity. Of the electrocardiographic phenomena, women have longer QT interval duration, repolarisation sequence more synchronised with the inverse of the depolarisation sequence, and likely increased regional heterogeneity of myocardial repolarisation. Studies investigating the relationship of these sex disparities to hormonal differences led frequently to conflicting results. Although sex hormones seem to play a key role by influencing both autonomic tone and electrophysiological properties at the cellular level, neither the truly relevant hormones nor their detailed actions are known. Physiologic usefulness of the described sex differences is also unknown. The review suggests that new studies are needed to advance the understanding of the physiologic mechanisms responsible for these inequalities between women and men and provides key methodological suggestions that need to be followed in future research.