Women's biggest heart attack risk factors

Laverne Higgins
November 10, 2018

High blood pressure was the leading factor; it raised a woman's risk of heart attack by 83% more than it raised the risk in a man. Smoking raised a woman's risk of heart attack 55% more, while Type 2 diabetes - which is linked to a poor diet - had a 47% greater impact on heart attacks among women compared with men.

The survey found that, overall, men are more likely to suffer a heart attack than women, with the average age of first attacks also lower in males than females.

But the study identified that those three individual factors - smoking, diabetes and high blood pressure - are more likely to be linked to heart attacks in women, showing the need for more awareness efforts targeted at women on the issue of heart diseases.

Men are still three times more likely than women to have a heart attack.

But the rise in risk went even higher for women than men.

Type II diabetes, usually associated with poor diet and other lifestyle factors, had a 47 per cent greater impact on the heart attack risk of a woman relative to a man, while type I diabetes had an nearly three times greater impact in a woman.

Men who smoked were twice as likely to get heart attacks compared to men who did not smoke. But the findings suggest this difference decreases if woman lead unhealthy lifestyles.

Every one per cent increase in the number of calories eaten after 6 p.m. - about 20 calories in a 2,000-calorie daily diet - was associated with higher fasting glucose, insulin and insulin resistance, all of which are associated with an increased risk of diabetes.

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The study also highlights the need for doctors to be vigilant when their female patients are elderly, smoke, have diabetes or have high blood pressure.

Researchers have warned that heart disease is "still under the radar of most women" and called for equal access to treatments. This difference in fat storage could affect the metabolic system differently and may show sex differences in diabetes prevalence.

"Women should, at least, receive the same access to guideline-based treatments for diabetes and hypertension, and to resources to help lose weight and stop smoking as do men", the authors say.

In the United Kingdom, women with diabetes are 15% less likely than men with diabetes to receive all recommended care processes, and may be less likely to achieve target values when treated for cardiovascular risk factors. "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 author Dr Elizabeth Millett, an epidemiologist at the George Institute for Global Health, University of Oxford.

"It's a complicated, long-term thing to work out, probably caused by a combination of factors - both biological and social", she said.

"They're focused mainly on breast cancer".

For decades, heart disease was considered a problem that primarily affects men who are overweight in middle age.

"This strengthens the need for people to do not forget to look at women and men when studying heart attacks", Millett said.

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