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heart failure, women, diabetes, heart attack

Risk of Heart Attack Much Higher in Diabetic Women than Men

According to the International Diabetes Federation (IDF), there are 415 million adults worldwide with diabetes. Of those, around 199 million are women. 

A group from the George Institute for Global Health decided to perform a global study to see how gender played a role in heart failure with diabetes. They studied 12 million people from all over the world, and discovered that women with type 1 are 47 percent more likely to have heart failure than type 1 men, and women with type 2 are nine percent more likely to suffer heart failure than men with type 2. 

The global study was led by Toshiaki Ohkuma, Ph. D., from the George Institute for Global Health, and published in Diabetologia.

Diabetes and heart failure

Having diabetes can greatly increase your risk of having additional health problems like high blood pressure, stroke, and heart disease, especially if your blood sugar levels are not kept within a healthy range.

According to the American Heart Association, at least 68 percent of seniors with diabetes have some form of heart disease, also known as cardiovascular disease.

Having high blood sugar for an extended period of time (diabetes) can damage blood vessels throughout the body, including those in the heart, kidneys, and eyes. When the blood vessels in the heart are damaged, the heart must work extra hard in order to move blood throughout the body. The longer you have unregulated diabetes, the greater the chances are of you developing heart disease. Keeping your blood sugar levels within a healthy range is a crucial step in preventing heart disease.

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Signs of heart failure in women

Heart attacks in women can be different than those in men. The symptoms of heart attacks in women are not fully established. Signs may be more “silent” and can be overlooked by women who are busy taking care of a family or working. 

Heart attack symptoms in women include:

  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Pressure, fullness, or pain in chest that comes and goes
  • Pain in arms, back, neck, or jaw
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cold sweat, nausea, lightheadedness

Reasons women are at higher risk

In addition to heart failure, diabetes in women is also associated with greater risk of problems in pregnancy and higher depression risk, as well as higher risk of stroke, dementia, and cancer than men with diabetes. 

Scientists are not sure of the reasons behind the greater risk for heart failure in women with diabetes, but they have some conjectures. These are that women: 

  • Undergo a two-year-longer period of untreated prediabetes than men
  • Are often undertreated for diabetes
  • Tend to take different levels of diabetes medications than men
  • Are not as likely to have access to intensive care as men
  • Often have poorer diabetes management
  • Are at greater risk for heart disease than men
  • In many parts of the world are socioeconomically unequal with men
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What you can do

Steps to improve your heart health include:

  • Quitting smoking
  • Taking medications as prescribed to maintain blood sugar
  • Getting screened for heart problems
  • Walking 30 minutes a day
  • Make changes to your diet
  • Watching your cholesterol levels
  • Monitoring blood pressure

In order to reduce your risk, be aware of these findings and the fact that heart attacks can be more subtle than you may think.