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Disadvantaged women at greater risk of heart disease than men

Women in low socioeconomic groups are 25% more likely to suffer a heart attack than men

Ingrid Torjesen

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Women from low socioeconomic backgrounds are 25% more likely to suffer a heart attack than disadvantaged men, says a study* published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

In a review of 116 studies, researchers from The George Institute for Global Health examined data from 22 million people from North America, Europe, Asia and Australasia and found, as expected, that markers of a lower socioeconomic status (education, occupation, income or area of residence), compared to a higher, are associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease for both sexes.  However, the results also showed women from more disadvantaged backgrounds were relatively more likely to suffer from coronary heart disease than men from similar backgrounds, but no such association was found for stroke.

For coronary heart disease, there was a significantly greater excess risk associated with lower educational attainment in women compared with men; comparing lowest with highest levels, the age-adjusted relative risk ratio was 1.24 (95% CI 1.09 to 1.41), for stroke it was 0.93 (0.72 to 1.18), and for cardiovascular disease 1.18 (1.03 to 1.36). Similar results were observed for other markers of socioeconomic status for all three outcomes.

Dr Sanne Peters, Research Fellow at The George Institute for Global Health, UK, said: "It's widely known that people from disadvantaged backgrounds are at greater risk of heart attack and stroke than people with more affluent backgrounds. However, our study has shown there is a significant difference between the sexes. More disadvantaged women are suffering from heart disease than their male counterparts, which is concerning.”

Men and women have a similar lifetime risk of heart disease, but women, on average, develop heart disease 5-10 years later in life than men. “This advantage is smaller among women with a lower socioeconomic status," Dr Peters explained. "We need to examine why this is happening and make sure women are able to access lifesaving treatment."

He added: "There is a clear need for sex specific research to discover why disproportionally more women than men are suffering from heart disease in disadvantaged communities and to deliver prevention and treatment programs that will reduce the burden of cardiovascular disease around the world."

* Backholer K, Peters SAE, Bots SH, et al. Sex differences in the relationship between socioeconomic status and cardiovascular disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis. J Epidemiol Community Health, published online first 14 December 2016. DOI:10.1136/jech-2016-207890

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