Women Smokers and Heart Attacks

Women smokers 13 times more likely to have a major heart attack than non-smoking peers

Young women smokers were at high risk of heart attack even when fit and healthy.

image of broken heart, in red, on a chalk board with the words "game over" written on topSmoking is risky business, even though the effects may not show up for many years. It may be even riskier if you’re female.

The first study to look at how gender affects heart attack in smokers indicated women smokers under age 50 have a much greater risk of heart attack than men of the same age. That’s true even when they are fit and healthy.

Researchers from the South Yorkshire Cardiothoracic Centre in England led by Ever Grech, MD, looked at 3,000 patients who had suffered a heart attack.

Dr. Grech said in a press release, “The finding that women under 50 had a significantly greater likelihood of a major heart attack than men of the same age was a surprise, as there is a general belief that cyclical female hormones provide a degree of cardiovascular protection. However, our study indicates that if women smoke, this protection is easily overridden.”

Dr. Grech is a cardiologist at Sheffield Teaching NHS Foundation Trust.

Dr. Grech and team found that women smokers under age 50 – even when fit and healthy – had a 13 times greater risk of major heart attack than female non-smokers. Male smokers in the same group had only eight times the risk; still high, but not as high as the risk for women smokers of the same age. The scientists controlled for other risk factors such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes.

Women smokers between the ages of 50 and 64 were 11 times more likely to have a heart attack compared to male smokers of the same age, who had 4.6 times the risk of heart attack compared to male non-smokers. The study also found that irrespective of gender or age, smoking increased heart attack risk five-fold.

Dr. Grech added in the press release, “The reasons for the gender differences in heart attack risk across all age groups are unclear and likely to be complex. One possible theory is that female coronary arteries are smaller in calibre and may be more prone to complete blockage when blood clots form over pre-existing fatty deposits in the artery wall. Our previous study has shown that 50 per cent of these are directly attributable to smoking and are therefore readily preventable.”

The study was presented at the American College of Cardiology’s Annual Scientific Sessions in Washington, DC, in March.

Information on study funding and conflict of interest was not available.

American College of Cardiology, “Women smokers 13 times more likely to have a major heart attack than non-smoking peers”