Women Less Likely to Change Habits That Increase Heart Disease Risk

Smoking, eating fattening foods, and not getting enough exercise are all lifestyle habits that can lead to poor health and cardiovascular disease. This is even truer for patients who have first-degree relatives who have had heart problems. Researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center have found that women do not change these habits as often as men, even when they have relatives with heart disease. Women with a family history of heart disease are less likely than men to stop smoking or increase their physical activity. They also are more likely to engage in lifestyle choices that increase their risk of heart disease than women not reporting a history of heart disease.

Dr. Amit Khera, Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine at the university, asserted that a family history of heart disease is as important an indicator of future cardiovascular health in women. However, the risk of cardiovascular disease is underappreciated among young women, and this may contribute to unfavorable trends in their lifestyle. Dr. Khera and his team examined data from more than 2,400 people between the ages of 30 and 50. A family history of premature heart disease was defined as having a first-degree relative with a history of heart attacks before age 50 in men and age 55 in women.

Although the prevalence of cardiovascular disease is generally low for young women, the consequences can be more severe. For instance, women are twice as likely as men to have fatal heart attacks. Those with family histories of heart disease had an increased prevalence of early heart disease, such as the buildup of fatty deposits and calcium in the arteries. Forty percent of young women with a family history of heart disease used tobacco products, compared with 25 percent of women without a history of cardiovascular disease. The earlier women make appropriate lifestyle changes, the more they may decrease their risk factors for heart disease in the future. If there is a family history of heart attacks, these patients require further studies and more aggressive measures to alter risk factors.

(Source: American Heart Journal, 2007;154:454-460.)

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