High BP, smoking makes women more prone to heart attack

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LONDON: According to a new study, high blood pressure, smoking, and diabetes makes women more prone to the risk of heart attack when compared to men. The rate of heart attacks in men remains three times higher than in women, according to researchers at the University of Oxford. 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. The findings appeared in the journal BMJ.

Nearly half a million British people enrolled in the UK Biobank were studied. They were between the ages of 40 and 69 and were recruited between 2006 and 2010. They were followed for an average of seven years by researchers. Of the 471,998 participants, none had a history of cardiovascular diseases. The researchers found that 5,081 of those people had their first heart attack during the course of the study, 28.8 per cent of them women.

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

Studies have identified some risk factors affecting women at a higher rate than men. Millett’s study examined the impact of three such risk factors and found that their disproportionate impact on women persisted across age.

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. Combined with an ageing population, this is likely to see “women catching up with men” in terms of heart attack rates, Millett explained. This would cause “a subsequent significant additional burden on society and health resources,” the authors of the study noted.

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. Doctors must ensure that women and men have equal access to health care programs addressing these conditions, researchers said. They also added that awareness is crucial, as heart attack symptoms can differ for men and women.

A few symptoms — such as unusual tiredness, dizziness or cold sweats — are more common in women than men, she explained.