Other health complications like smoking and high blood pressure can increase risk of heart problems.
Researchers investigating the risk factors for heart attacks find that the effects of having diabetes, smoking and high blood pressure raised women’s risk of having a heart attack more than men.
For the study, recently published in The BMJ, researchers from the University of Oxford looked at records of around 472,000 people in the UK aged 40 to 69. They found that, overall, men had a far higher risk of heart attack than women.
However the report also found that women with type 1 diabetes had more than eight times an increased risk of a heart attack compared to women without the condition.
Men with type 1 diabetes had almost three times as much increased risk of heart attack compared to men without the condition.
Women with type 2 diabetes had a 96% increase in risk of a heart attack compared to women without the condition.
Men with type 2 diabetes had a 33% increase in risk of a heart attack compared to men without the condition
After an average seven years of follow-up, 5,081 people had their first heart attack. More men than women were affected, with 71% of heart attacks in men and 29% in women. This difference levelled off slightly among those aged 65 and over.
Researchers concluded: “Although the risk of heart attacks is, on average, about three times higher in men than women, women tend to “catch up” to some extent if they have certain cardiovascular risk factors.
“Our findings suggest that clinicians should be vigilant when their female patients are elderly, smoke, have diabetes, or have high blood pressure. These findings also highlight the importance of equitable access to guideline based treatments for diabetes and hypertension, and to weight loss and smoking cessation programmes for women and men in middle and older age.
“Despite the rate of heart attacks being higher in men than women, hypertension, smoking (especially higher intensity), and type 1 and type 2 diabetes confer a greater excess risk of heart attacks in women than in men. This excess risk does not attenuate with age. In addition, a 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 heart attacks to men in the future, with a major additional burden on society and health resources.”
An NHS Behind the Headlines analysis of the study said: “The study shows the big impact that factors like smoking, high blood pressure and diabetes can have on the chances of having a heart attack.
“While the risk increases for women are bigger than for men, the risk increases for men are still substantial. The study underlines the importance of not smoking and of keeping blood pressure and diabetes under control, for both women and men.
“While the overall risk of a heart attack remained far higher for men than women in the study, it does serve to point out that certain groups of women have a much higher risk than other women. It's important to be aware of the risk of a heart attack, especially if you are a woman in one of the higher risk groups.
“Symptoms of a heart attack are sometimes less clear in women than men. Symptoms can include chest pain, pain in the arms, jaw, neck and back, feeling dizzy, sweating, shortness of breath, feeling sick, feeling anxious or panicky, coughing or wheezing. Pain may not be severe, and sometimes women or people with diabetes don't feel any pain, or a minor pain like indigestion. If you suspect someone is having a heart attack, it's a medical emergency.
“Call 999 right away and ask for an ambulance.”
Read the report in The BMJ