Sex differences in control of cutaneous blood flow

J. P. Cooke, M. A. Craeger, P. J. Osmundson, J. T. Shepherd

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

127 Scopus citations

Abstract

Women are far more likely than men to suffer from Raynaud's disease. The purpose of this study was to determine whether there are gender differences in local or central control of cutaneous blood flow that could account for the increased incidence of Raynaud's disease in women. To assess cutaneous blood flow, hand blood flow (HBF), finger blood flow (FBF), or skin perfusion (SP) was measured by fluid plethysmography, mercury strain-gauge plethysmography, or laser Doppler spectroscopy, respectively, in 47 volunteers. Basal HBF in men exceeded that of women (12.1±2.0 versus 6.2±1.5 ml/100 ml/min). Likewise, FBF in men surpassed that of women (19.5±4.1 versus 7.7±1.8 ml/100 ml/min). Similarly, SP in men was greater than that of women (270±42 versus 81±16 perfusion units). However, after total body warming (to induce a thermal sympatholysis), HBF in women exceeded that of men, suggesting that the lower basal HBF in women was due to increased sympathetic outflow to the extremities. Mental stress and deep inspiration reduced HBF and SP in men. Paradoxically, both of these maneuvers increased HBF and SP in women. To determine whether these paradoxical responses in women were due to the women's elevated basal sympathetic tone, these experiments were repeated after total body cooling in men to increase sympathetic tone and after total body warming in women to reduce sympathetic tone. Total body cooling reduced HBF and SP in men. Under these conditions, mental stress and deep inspiration induced vasodilation. In women, total body warming for 10 minutes increased HBF. Under these conditions, mental stress and deep inspiration induced vasoconstriction. In conclusion, basal cutaneous blood flow is reduced in women. This appears to be due to a basal increase in sympathetic tone rather than to a local structural or functional difference in the cutaneous circulation. In addition, a paradoxical vasodilation in response to mental arithmetic and deep inspiration is unmasked at high levels of sympathetic tone. The gender differences in cutaneous blood flow may account for the increased incidence of Raynaud's disease in young women.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1607-1615
Number of pages9
JournalCirculation
Volume82
Issue number5
DOIs
StatePublished - 1990

Keywords

  • Autonomic control
  • Raynaud's disease
  • Thermoregulation
  • Vasospasm

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine

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