Age and sex differences in microvascular responses during reactive hyperaemia


Microvascular impairments are typical of several cardiovascular diseases. Near‐infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) combined with a vascular occlusion test provides non‐invasive insights into microvascular responses by monitoring skeletal muscle oxygenation changes during reactive hyperaemia. Despite increasing interest in the effects of sex and ageing on microvascular responses, evidence remains inconsistent. Therefore, the present study aimed to investigate the effects of sex and age on microvascular responsiveness. Twenty‐seven participants (seven young men and seven young women; seven older men and six older women; aged 26 ± 1, 26 ± 4, 67 ± 3 and 69 ± 4 years, respectively) completed a vascular occlusion test consisting of 5 min of arterial occlusion followed by 5 min reperfusion. Oxygenation changes in the vastus lateralis were monitored by near‐infrared spectroscopy. The findings revealed that both women (referring to young and older women) and older participants (referring to both men and women) exhibited lower microvascular responsiveness. Notably, both women and older participants demonstrated reduced desaturation (−38% and −59%, respectively) and reperfusion rates (−24% and −40%, respectively) along with a narrower range of tissue oxygenation (−39% and −39%, respectively) and higher minimal tissue oxygenation levels (+34% and +21%, respectively). Women additionally displayed higher values in resting (+12%) and time‐to‐peak (+15%) tissue oxygenation levels. In conclusion, this study confirmed decreased microvascular responses in women and older individuals. These results emphasize the importance of considering sex and age when studying microvascular responses. Further research is needed to uncover the underlying mechanisms and clinical relevance of these findings, enabling the development of tailored strategies for preserving vascular health in diverse populations.

Experimental Physiology