Women at greater risk of heart attack from unhealthy lifestyle than men, study finds

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The gap in heart attack rates between women and men is set to close because unhealthy living is more dangerous for the female cardiovascular system, a study has found.

Men in Britain currently face a roughly three-times greater risk of suffering a heart attack, known as myocardial infarction, compared to  women because, in general, they live unhealthier lives.

However, a new analysis of the medical records of nearly half a million middle-aged people found that, per person, smoking, high blood pressure and diabetes produced a higher chance of heart attack in women compared to men.

Despite this, women are less likely than men to be offered proper care packages to deal with problems like diabetes because they are perceived to be at lower risk, experts said.

The researchers from Oxford University said that women may be more susceptible to heart attack if they smoked, had high blood pressure or diabetes because of the way the female body stores fat.

Published in the British Medical Journal, the study included 471,998 people aged between 40 and 69 who were enrolled in the UK Biobank databse.

All had no history of cardiovascular disease at the beginning of the study.

The team found that smoking increased a woman’s risk of heart attack by 55 per cent more than it did for a man.

Meanwhile high blood pressure increased the female risk of heart attack by an extra 83 per cent relative to male, and for diabetes the relative increased risk was 47 per cent.

The Oxford University team said that unless British women begin to improve their lifestyles, their rate of heart attacks would begin to move towards that of men.

Dr Elizabeth Millett, who led the study, said: “Cardiovascular disease is the biggest killer of women but so many don’t realise.

“They’re focused mainly on breast cancer.

“Women should, at least, receive the same access to guideline-based treatments for diabetes and hypertension, and to resources to help lose weight and stop smoking as do men.”

The authors they believe their study is the first to analyse both absolute and relative differences in heart attack risk between the sexes across a range of risk factors in a general population.

But they emphasised that due to its design the could draw no firm conclusions between cause and effect.

However, they suggested that the sex difference might be partly explained by differences in body shape.

Dr Sanne Peters, who co-authored the study, said: “Women, on average, are more pear-shaped and men, on average, are more apple-shaped.

“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 UK, women with diabetes are 15% 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.

“Rising prevalence of lifestyle-associated risk factors, coupled with the ageing population, is likely to result in women having a more similar overall rate of myocardial infarction to men than is the case at present, with a subsequent significant additional burden on society and health resources,” the authors warned.

Approximately seven million people live with some form of cardiovascular disease in the UK, according to the British Heart Foundation, with around 420 dying from the disease each day.

There are more than 200,000 hospital visits each year due to heart attacks, the equivalent of one every three minutes.

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