High blood pressure, smoking and diabetes increase the risk of a woman's heart attack more than these factors increase the risk of a man, according to a new study published in BMJ.
The rate of heart attack in men remains three times higher than for women, says researcher Elizabeth Millet, an epidemiologist at the University of Oxford, the George Institute for Global Health. But the study found that these three individual factors – smoking, diabetes, and high blood pressure – have greater likelihood of linking with heart attacks in women, showing the need for better efforts to raise awareness about women who deal with the problem of heart disease.
Milten's work is part of a broader study of gender differences in non-communicable diseases by the George Institute.
"This strengthens the need for people to remember to watch women and men when studying a heart attack," Millett said.
Because her latest work is an observational research that can not explain the causes, Milet emphasized the need for more research on why this gender gap exists.
Nearly half a million Britons enrolled in UK Biobank have been studied. They were between 40 and 69 years old and recruited in the period from 2006 to 2010. They followed an average of seven years from Millet's team. Of the 471,998 participants, none had a history of cardiovascular disease. The researchers found that 5,081 people had the first infarction during the study, of which 28.8% were women.
High blood pressure was the leading factor; increased the risk of heart attack by 83% more than it increased the risk for a man. Smoking increased the risk of heart attack by 55%, while type 2 diabetes – associated with poor nutrition – had a 47% higher impact on women's heart disease than men.
Studies have identified some risk factors that have affected women at a higher rate than men. Millet's study examined the impact of three such risk factors and found that their disproportionate impact on women survived by age.
According to the research, deaths from heart attacks are lower than women than men, and previous studies have shown that women on average nine years later experience their first heart attack.
In combination with population aging, this is likely to see "women catch men" in terms of heart attacks, explained Millett. This would cause "a significant significant additional burden on society and health resources," the authors of the study said.
The study has certain limitations. The UK Biobank project consists mainly of white participants, making it difficult to generalize findings to other groups. Millett also said that the respondents were slightly higher socio-economic status than others in the UK.
"Regardless of your sex, risk factors such as high blood pressure, smoking and diabetes increase the risk of heart attack. These findings should not go beyond common efforts to better detect and manage risk factors that can be changed," wrote the professor Mathin Avkiran, assistant medical director at the British Heart Foundation.
According to the British Heart Foundation, about 188,000 hospital visits each year are due to a heart attack. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 735,000 Americans have a heart attack each year.
"What we want is for women to be more aware that heart attacks are happening both for women and men," Milet said. She believes there is a lack of consciousness in women about heart disease because men are more guilty of them.
The study also highlights the need for a doctor to be cautious when their patients are older, smokers, have diabetes, or have high blood pressure. Doctors must ensure that women and men have equal access to healthcare programs that deal with these conditions, researchers have said.
Millett added that awareness is crucial because the symptoms of a heart attack may vary in men and women. Several symptoms – such as unusual fatigue, dizziness or cold sweating – are more common in women than men, she explained.
"It is absolutely vital that everyone has equal access to the best advice and treatment regardless of age, gender or socioeconomic status," Avkiran wrote. "This is an important reminder that heart disease does not discriminate, so we need to change perceptions that it just affects men."