Smoking, diabetes raise heart attack risk more in women, study finds

Henrietta Strickland
November 9, 2018

Women who smoke, have diabetes or high blood pressure increase their risk of a heart attack more than men faced with the same risks, a large study of United Kingdom adults has found.

In fact, experts found that women who are heavy smokers had twice the risk of a heart attack as men who smoke similar numbers of cigarettes.

And women with high blood pressure were almost twice as likely to suffer a heart attack than men with the same condition.

The researchers explained that women may be more susceptible to heart attack because of the way the female body stores fat.

For decades heart disease was considered a problem which mainly affected middle-aged overweight men.

Although men are at far greater risk of heart attacks overall, cardiovascular disease is the biggest killer of women in the UK.

'Our findings suggest that clinicians should be vigilant when their female patients are elderly, smoke, have diabetes, or have high blood pressure.

The researchers, writing in the BMJ, said women should receive the same treatments as men and be offered support to stop smoking.

The researchers analysed data from the UK Biobank, a vast study of adults in Britain that aims to improve the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of serious and life-threatening illnesses.

The study involved 471,998 people aged between 40 and 69.

Although the risk of having a heart attack is lower in women than in men of all ages, certain risk factors appeared to have a greater impact on women.

As for the risk of heart attack associated with aging, the study found the increase in risk caused by smoking, high blood pressure and diabetes lessened in both sexes as they grew older.

An excess risk was also found among women with high blood pressure, and Type I and Type II diabetes. "However, several major risk factors increase the risk in women more than they increase the risk in men, so women with these factors experience a relative disadvantage", said lead researcher Dr Elizabeth Millett.

High blood pressure was associated with a more than 80 per cent higher risk of heart attack in women than in men, while Type I diabetes was associated with an nearly three times higher risk in women, and Type II diabetes a 47 per cent higher risk.

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