New UK research has found that smoking, diabetes and high blood pressure, key risk factors for heart disease, may have a bigger impact on the risk in women than in men.

Carried out by researchers from The George Institute for Global Health at the University of Oxford, the new study looked at 471,998 male and female participants aged 40-69 who were taking part in UK Biobank, a large, long-term study that looks at conditions such as cardiovascular disease in UK residents.

Participants had no history of cardiovascular disease at the start of the study, and were followed for an average of seven years.

The findings, published in the BMJ, showed that smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure and having a body mass index (BMI) of more than 25 increased the risk of having a heart attack for both men and women.

However, the risk factors appeared to be stronger for women than men.

Although male current smokers had over twice the risk of a heart attack than men who have never smoked, female current smokers had over three times the risk of a heart attack compared to women who had never smoked, what the researchers refer to as “excess risk”.

When comparing the sexes, the team also found that women who smoked more than 20 cigarettes per day had twice the risk of heart attack than men who smoked more than 20 cigarettes a day, while smoking 10 to 19 cigarettes daily was 40 percent more strongly associated with the risk of heart attack in women than men.

An excess risk was also found among women with high blood pressure, and Type I and Type II diabetes. High blood pressure was associated with a more than 80 percent higher risk of heart attack in women than in men, while Type I diabetes was associated with an almost three times higher risk in women, and Type II diabetes a 47 percent higher risk.

However, a high BMI was not found to be linked with an excess risk in women.

The researchers also investigated whether age affected the risk of heart attack, finding that additional excess risk experienced by women also persisted with ageing.

“Overall, more men experience heart attacks than women. However, several major risk factors increase the risk in women more than they increase the risk in men, so women with these factors experience a relative disadvantage,” said lead researcher Dr. Elizabeth Millett.

“These findings highlight the importance of raising awareness around the risk of heart attack women face, and ensuring that women as well as men have access to guideline-based treatments for diabetes and high blood pressure, and to resources to help them stop smoking,” Dr. Millett said.