Medicine

Female smokers 'face greater heart risk'

Female smokers 'face greater heart risk'

Women who have high blood pressure, smoke or are diabetic are at far greater risk of a heart attack than men with the same conditions, according to a new study.

"Our findings suggest that clinicians should be vigilant when their female patients are elderly, smoke, have diabetes, or have high blood pressure", the researchers wrote in a paper published by The British Medical Journal on Thursday.

Almost half a million British people enrolled in the UK Biobank were studied.

Over an average of seven years, 5,081 people (29 per cent of whom were women) had their first heart attack, meaning that the incidence of heart attack was 7.76 per 10,000 person years in women compared with 24.35 per 10,000 person years in men. One third of these individuals were females.

It's a similar story with high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes, with women living with the conditions at a greater risk of heart attacks than men.

Deaths from heart attacks are lower among women than man at younger ages, according to the study, and previous research showed that women experience their first heart attack nine years later than men, on average.

Smoking increased a woman's risk of a heart attack by 55 per cent more than it increased the risk in a man, while high blood pressure increased a woman's risk of heart attack by an extra 83 per cent relative to its effect in a man.

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Scientists emphasize that high blood pressure, Smoking and diabetes increase the risk of heart attack regardless of gender, and that it is very important that everyone have equal access to quality counselling and treatment regardless of age, gender or socio-economic status.

And women with type I diabetes faced an nearly three times higher relative risk, while for those with type II diabetes it was 47 per cent greater. The way women's bodies store fat could provide another clue as to why they are at a greater risk.

"These differences in fat distribution have a different impact on the metabolic system and might explain some of the sex difference seen for diabetes".

In the United Kingdom, women with diabetes are 15 per cent 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. She believes there is a lack of awareness in women about heart diseases because men are more affected by them. "It's a complicated, long-term thing to work out, probably caused by a combination of factors - both biological and social".

"They're focused mainly on breast cancer".

In an accompanying editorial with the article, experts have said that men may be more at risk of heart attacks but women are more likely to die from heart attacks than men in UK.