Over the past several decades, it has become increasingly clear that women have distinct cardiovascular profiles compared to men. In this review, our goal is to provide an overview of the literature regarding the influences of female sex and reproductive hormones (primarily estradiol) on mechanisms of cardiovascular control relevant to regulation of blood pressure, body temperature, and cerebral blood flow. Young women tend to have lower resting blood pressure compared with men. This sex difference is reversed at menopause, when women develop higher sympathetic nerve activity and the risk of systemic hypertension increases sharply as postmenopausal women age. Vascular responses to thermal stress, including cutaneous vasodilation and vasoconstriction, are also affected by reproductive hormones in women, where estradiol appears to promote vasodilation and heat dissipation. The influence of reproductive hormones on cerebral blood flow and sex differences in the ability of the cerebral vasculature to increase its blood flow (cerebrovascular reactivity) are relatively new areas of investigation. Sex and hormonal influences on integrative blood flow regulation have further implications during challenges to physiological homeostasis, including exercise. We propose that increasing awareness of these sex-specific mechanisms is important for optimizing health care and promotion of wellness in women across the life span.
© 2020 Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.