The cardiovascular system is regulated by many complex neurohumoral mechanisms which ensure the cardiac, cerebral and renal optimal function.
The neural control of the heart is mainly mediated by the vagal and sympathetic systems and by their interaction, known as the sympatho-vagal balance. An increased sympathetic tone is found in many abnormal situations, such as arterial hypertension, diabetes, chronic heart failure and myocardial infarction. This is associated with an increase in over-all mortality. In contrast to men, fertile women show a predominant vagal tone.
The hormonal control of the cardiovascular system is mediated by various substances such as renin-angiotensin, catecholamines, insulin and estrogens, which are themselves correlated with the autonomic nervous system.
It has been reported that men had greater cortisol and diastolic blood pressure responses compared to women. It was also found that men respond to psychological stress with higher increases in cortisol, compared to women. This greater activation of the Hypothalamus-Pituitary axis could translate into an elevated risk for CVD, diabetes and hypertension and may be linked to the higher prevalence of these diseases in men.
Gender differences in brain structures and/or cognitive processes may be responsible for these sexually dimorphic stress responses.