We know that smoking, diabetes and high blood pressure are all bad for the heart. However, the latest research indicates that the risks from smoking and diabetes are especially risky for women’s hearts.
Looking at data on 472,000 Britons ages 40 to 69, researchers found that all three of these heart disease risk factors increased the odds of heart attack for both sexes.
However, the highest risk was found in women.
For example, the study found that while male smokers had more than twice the risk of heart attack than men who had never smoked, the study found that women smokers had more than three times the risk of heart attack than those who had never smoked.
The same trend held for high blood pressure and diabetes, according to the team led by Elizabeth Millett of the University of Oxford.
High blood pressure was tied to a more than 80% higher risk for heart attack risk in women than in men.
Type 1 diabetes was associated with an almost three times higher risk in women than in men, and Type 2 diabetes was associated with a 47% higher risk in women than in men.
One thing hasn’t changed, however…
The risk factors of being overweight or obese were associated with similar increases in heart attack risk in women and men.
Overall, more men experience heart attacks than women. However, several major risk factors increase the risk for women more than they increase the risk for men, so women with these factors are at a greater disadvantage.
As we now know, heart disease is not a “males-only” disease.
What makes this study important, is that over half of the studied population was female — while most cardiovascular studies have a male majority.
And, as I’ve mentioned in several earlier articles, it’s also true that women are less likely to get similar screen and prevention interventions than men.
According to Dr. Cindy Grines, Director of Cardiology at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, heart disease remains the No. 1 killer of American women.
This is especially true as the natural heart-protecting effects of estrogen drops after menopause.
Of course, what this new study means is that traditional risk factors such as high blood pressure, smoking and diabetes need to be addressed as soon as possible, even before menopause.
You can help yourself and your female friends by raising awareness around the risk of heart disease and complications for women.
Likewise, physicians should make sure that women, as well as men, have access to guideline-based treatments for diabetes and high blood pressure, and to resources to help them stop smoking.