Image by Dr. Jaus via Flickr
At the European Society of Cardiology conference, it was noted that women typically get heart disease much later than men, but not if they smoke.
A Norwegian study lead by Dr Morten Grundtvig and colleagues found that women who smoke have heart attacks (myocardial infarctions) more than a dozen years earlier than women who don't smoke. For men, the gap is less profound; male smokers have heart attacks about 6 years earlier than men who don't smoke. The study was based on 1,784
patients admitted for a first heart attack at a hospital in Lillehammer.
On average, men had their first heart
attack at age 72 if they didn't smoke, and at 64 if they did. Women in
the study had their first heart attack at age 81 if they didn't smoke,
and at age 66 if they did. The differences were 8 and 15 years, respectively, for men and women. After adjusting for other heart risk factors such as blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes, the difference for men was about 6 years and for women about 14 years.
Previous studies looking at a possible gender difference have been inconclusive.
Doctors have long suspected that female hormones protect women against heart disease. For example, estrogen is thought to raise the levels of good cholesterol as well as enabling blood vessel walls to relax more easily, thus lowering the chances of a blockage. Smoking may lower the natural protective mechanisms.
Which leads me to wonder whether there are gender and smoking history differences in lung cancer risk between male and females or people who develop chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, both diseases associated with chronic smoking habits.