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Aug 25, 2011

Increased Heart Disease Risk in Female Smokers

Female smokers are 25% more likely to develop heart disease than male smokers.

Smoking kills more than 5 million people worldwide each year, making it one of the most preventable causes of death. Not only does smoking increase risk for cancer and lung disease, it is the most preventable risk factor for heart disease — making it the number-one killer of both men and women nationwide. And for women, health risks associated with smoking may be even greater than for men, a recent study shows.

A study published in a leading medical journal, The Lancet, reported that female smokers are 25% more likely to develop heart disease than their male counterparts — a striking statistic that may even be underestimated, experts report. This study included data from a number of trials with a total of more than 2.4 million people and more than 44,000 heart disease events. After comparing cardiovascular risk in male and female smokers, they found not only that female smokers are 25% more likely to develop heart disease than male smokers, their risk increases by 2% for each additional year of smoking. This means that in general, women are 25% more likely to develop heart disease than men as smokers, and that they are even more likely to develop heart disease each year that they continue smoking, in comparison with men.

These findings are extremely important, as they help identify populations at greatest risk for heart disease. In doing so, they give healthcare providers the ability to target high-risk populations, such as women, for future smoking cessation programs. And while the exact cause of increased cardiovascular risk in female smokers is unknown, smoking cessation tools such as nicotine replacements and medication should prove useful in reducing the number of female smokers nationally, thereby reducing the prevalence of heart disease. 

Questions for You to Consider

  • Why does smoking increase risk for heart disease?

  • Smoking causes plaque build up in the arteries, which reduces the flow of blood to the heart and body, increasing blood pressure. Over time, this can put an extreme strain on the heart and other parts of the body.
  • Why are female smokers at greater risk for heart disease than men?

  • There are many possible explanations for increased cardiovascular risk in female smokers, one of which is biology. It is possible that women are more sensitive than men to the harmful effects of smoking, making them more susceptible to adverse health effects such as heart disease. However, more research is needed to identify the exact causes of increased cardiovascular risk in female smokers.

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