Researchers have only recently discovered that heart disease is not just a male problem. Smoking, high blood pressure, and diabetes are all known risk factors. Do they have the same effect on men and women?
According to a new Trusted Source published in the BMJ study, these risk factors increased the likelihood of a heart attack for both men and women, but more so in women.
The study’s authors, from the University of Oxford and Johns Hopkins University, as well as other institutions, assessed data from nearly half a million people who were enrolled in the UK Biobank. This database contains information about adults living in the United Kingdom.
The researchers found that women with high blood pressure had a higher risk of heart attacks than men. The risk of heart attacks in women is 55 percent higher than that of men who smoke. Type 2 diabetes increased the risk of heart attack by 47 percent in women compared to men.
The reasons for the findings are not clear, but they could be due to other factors such as the duration of exposure. Women may have untreated high blood tension for longer than men. Dr. Michelle O’Donoghue is a cardiovascular medicine specialist from Brigham and Women’s Hospital. She spoke to Healthline.
She continued, “These findings serve as a reminder to clinicians about the importance of risk factor management.”
O’Donoghue said that women tend to overlook their heart disease risk factors and delay seeking treatment. They are less likely to receive treatment based on guidelines when they seek treatment than men.
Heart disease is the number one cause of death among both men and women in the US.
For many years, heart disease studies have tended to include more men than women. Scientists have in some cases excluded women from studies because they are concerned about the possible risks trial treatments may pose to an unborn child if a woman gets pregnant during research.
Research results can be distorted by changes in the hormone levels of female participants during their menstrual cycle. It can be difficult and expensive to collect data on study populations with female participants.
Due to these factors and many others, men have historically been the default subjects for research on heart disease. It’s becoming increasingly obvious that gender and sex can influence how heart disease impacts people.
“Many in cardiology believed there to be no differences, that studying men was enough and women did not require specific study,” according to Dr. Martha Gulati, Professor and Chief of Cardiology at University of Arizona College of Medicine. She spoke to Healthline.
She added, “We are finding that this is not true. This study shows that women have different risk factors than men and that the impact on women is greater than on men.”
While some progress has been made over the past few decades, there is still much work to be done in order to correct persistent gender and sex imbalances within many areas of cardiovascular science.
Dr. Pamela Ouyang is the director of Johns Hopkins Women’s Cardiovascular Health Centre. She said that “older women are more reluctant to enroll in school.” She further stated: “They may find it more difficult to attend visits as they rely on others for transportation and don’t want to inconvenience family or friends by attending.
She added that many women want to talk to others about their studies before committing to a study. Sometimes, recruitment may close before women have a chance to enroll.
She suggested that researchers could invite more community members to participate in their research during the planning stages.
Other investigations, like the recent BMJ study, have shown that certain heart disease risk factors seem to be more prevalent in women.
Ouyang stated that “the findings that smoking and hypertension increase the risk of a heart attack are known. And several studies have shown these risk factors to be associated with a greater risk for [heart attacks] in women than their impact on men.” Heart disease can be caused by a variety of factors that are specific to women.
Certain complications of pregnancy, for example, are linked to an increased risk of heart disease. These complications include preeclampsia (high blood pressure), gestational diabetes, preterm birth, and low baby weight.
Heart disease is also associated with certain health conditions that affect women disproportionately. These conditions include, for example, breast cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus.
Gulati urges women to talk to their doctor about their heart risk in order to better understand it and take steps to manage it. Gulati stated that it is important for women who are at risk of heart disease to be aware of the risk factors and discuss them with their doctor.
Early intervention can reduce some of the risks. Diet, exercise, smoking, and other lifestyle choices in middle and early adulthood can influence the likelihood of diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
Ouyang stated that it is important to educate younger women on the risks of smoking, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
“Increasingd physical activity and fitness are also integral components of successful living.” We know that women engage in significantly less physical activity in their young adulthood than men.”
Researchers found that women with high blood pressure were at a higher risk of a heart attack than men.
The risk of a heart attack in women is 55 percent higher than that of men who smoke. Type 2 diabetes increased the risk of heart attack by 47 percent in women compared to men.