Women May Face Greater Heart Risk From Smoking Than
WEDNESDAY, Aug. 10 (HealthDay News) -- Women who smoke have a 25
percent higher risk of developing heart disease than male smokers
do, according to a huge, new study.
Although the reason for the higher risk isn't known, researchers
suspect there are biological differences in how women's bodies
react to damaging cigarette smoke.
"Women may absorb more carcinogens and other toxic agents in cigarettes compared to men," said lead researcher Rachel R. Huxley, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Minnesota.
In addition, women have different smoking habits from men, she
added. "Despite smoking fewer cigarettes than men on average, they
may smoke more of the cigarette. They might smoke right to the end
of the cigarette, compared to men -- we just don't know," she
For the study, Huxley and her colleague, Mark Woodward from the
department of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University, gathered
data from 75 studies, involving almost 4 million people, that
looked at the risk of heart disease between smokers and
This type of study is called a meta-analysis, the object of
which is to pool data from a variety of sources to try to identify
Combined, these studies included 3,912,809 people, more than
67,000 of whom had heart disease. In the 75 studies that included
data on the differences between men and women and included 2.4
million people, the researchers found that women who smoked had a
25 percent higher risk of having a heart attack than men who
That risk increased by 2 percent for every year the women
smoked, compared with men who smoked equally as long, Huxley and
The risk to women could actually be greater than what was
uncovered in this study, Huxley added. On average, women smoke
fewer cigarettes than men and while the number of women who smoke
has peaked in the United States, in developing countries women are
just beginning to take up the habit, she said.
Huxley noted that they also found a higher risk for lung cancer
among women who smoked, compared with men. "Women who smoked had
twice the risk of dying from lung cancer, compared to men," she
"So this is not just a one-off thing," Huxley said. "There is some physiological or behavioral reason why women who smoke have a much greater risk of contracting illness, compared to their male counterparts," she said.
The report was published in the Aug. 10 online edition of
What the research shows, Huxley added, is that anti-smoking
campaigns need to be focused toward women as well as men. "Tobacco
control programs really need to have a female perspective; it can't
be a generalized message, it has to be sex-specific," she said.
Dr. Carolyn M. Dresler, director of the Tobacco Prevention and
Cessation Program at the Arkansas Department of Health and coauthor
of an accompanying journal editorial, agreed with that
"Women smoking in the world is a growth market for the tobacco industry," she said. Ways need to be found to "counter the very effective marketing of the tobacco industry," she added.
And she noted, "If we don't work to focus effective strategies
for preventing and treating coronary heart disease in both sexes,
we might improve only one of the sexes and leave the other
Dr. Gregg C. Fonarow, a cardiology professor at the University
of California, Los Angeles and a spokesman for the American Heart
Association, noted that "smoking remains the leading cause of
preventable deaths in men and women worldwide."
It is very well-documented that smoking raises the risk of
coronary heart disease in men and women, he added. "Complete
cessation from smoking is by far the single biggest improvement to
health that women and men who smoke can make," Fonarow said.
For more information on women and heart disease, visit the
U.S. National Library of Medicine.
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