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3 Heart Attack Risk Factors Women Need to Watch


Heart disease is the #1 cause of death in the United States for both men and women. But research now shows three key heart disease risk factors—smoking, diabetes and high blood pressure—can increase heart attack risk in women much more drastically than in men.

A new study published in the British Medical Journal showed that while all three factors raise the chances of a heart attack in both men and women, the risk is increased significantly in women.

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The 3 Heart Attack Risk Factors That Impact Women More Than Men

After looking at data from almost half a million people in the United Kingdom, researchers discovered:

  • Smoking increased risk of heart attack 55 percent more in women than in men
  • Type 2 diabetes increased risk of heart attack 47 percent more in women than in men
  • High blood pressure increased risk of heart attack a whopping 83 percent more in women than in men

The vast differences between the genders for heart disease risk stunned the researchers. While the reasons for these differences are not clear, the researchers suggest women may take longer to seek treatment, resulting in women going longer with untreated high blood pressure than men. Also, sometimes clinicians may overlook the severity of women’s risk factors for heart disease.  In fact, the researchers also suggest that when women do try to get treatment, they may be less likely than men to receive appropriate therapies based on medical protocol.

A Worrying Gap in Cardiovascular Research

For many years, women have been excluded from heart health studies.  Reasons include concerns that trial treatments could be risky for female subjects if they got pregnant, as well as changes in female hormone levels during menstruation cycles.  Few, if any, women have been subjects in trials for heart attack risk.

But as this study shows, gender plays an important role in analyzing heart disease risk factors and gender can affect outcomes.  The researchers acknowledge that cardiovascular research studies cannot just include male subjects.

Additional Risk Factors Women Must Consider

Smoking, diabetes, and high blood pressure not only increase the chance of heart attacks in women, but also increase health risks during pregnancy, including preterm delivery, gestational hypertension, preeclampsia, low infant birth weight and gestational diabetes.  Heart complications from pre-existing illnesses, such as lupus, arthritis and breast cancer, also negatively impact women.  Researchers recommend that women address exercise, diet and smoking early in life, so risk factors for developing heart disease can be reduced.


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