Having diabetes raises a woman's risk of having a heart attack to nearly 10 times that of other women, according to a study in the December issue of Diabetes Care. The study also describes why women with diabetes are at much higher risk than men with diabetes when it comes to having cardiac events.
Heart disease is the leading killer of people with diabetes, regardless of gender. But, the risks are disproportionately higher for women. Men who have diabetes are three times more likely to have a heart attack than those who don't, the study found. But women are 9.5 times more likely to have a heart attack if they have diabetes. Previous studies have reported a 2-4 times greater risk for cardiac events for all people with diabetes.
This is the first study to look specifically at factors that increase a woman's risk for developing heart disease as compared to a man's. The study, conducted by researchers in Finland, found the disproportionate risk to women could partially be explained by a series of cardiovascular risk factors that appear to be more prevalent in women with diabetes than in men with diabetes. The women in the study were more likely to have obesity, high blood pressure, low HDL cholesterol (or "good" cholesterol) and high levels of triglycerides. The greatest predictors for cardiac events in women were poor glycemic control, high blood pressure and low HDL combined with high triglycerides.
Poor control of blood sugar levels was also a predictor of cardiovascular disease in men. However, even after adjusting for conventional cardiovascular risk factors, a portion of the increased risk for heart attacks remained unexplained for both genders.
A separate study, conducted by researchers of the Translating Research into Action for Diabetes (TRIAD) Study, found that in 10 managed care health plans and 68 provider groups across the United States, women were less likely than men to receive aggressive treatment for cardiovascular risk factors.
Women with diabetes were less likely to have been advised to take aspirin to prevent cardiovascular events than men with diabetes and were also less likely to have been prescribed medications to lower cholesterol. Previous studies have shown women are likewise less likely than men to receive cholesterol screenings that would tell them if such medications were advisable.