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How smoking puts female heart at risk

Friday September 2nd, 2011

Women are more likely to suffer from a hardening of the arteries because of exposure to tobacco smoke than men, a European study has found.

Researchers discovered that the amount of tobacco exposure correlates with the thickness of carotid arterial walls – an index of atherosclerosis – in both genders, but there is double the impact in women.

They also found that the effect of the number of cigarettes smoked per day on the progression of the disease is more than five-fold in women than in men.

A total of 1,694 men and 1,893 women from Finland, Sweden, Netherlands, France and Italy took part in the IMPROVE study, which used ultrasound technology to assess the presence of wall thickening and plaques in the carotids.

The results were reported to the conference of the European Society of Cardiology in Paris, France, this week.

Elena Tremoli, Professor of Pharmacology at the University of Milan, Italy, and scientific director of the Monzino Cardiology Centre in Milan who led the study, says: “This is a particular relevant finding, especially in view of the fact that educational campaigns carried out in the last years have been less successful in reducing the number of smokers in women than in men.”

According to The World Health Organisation, many men in most European countries have stopped smoking but the percentage of women smokers remained roughly the same in the last three decades. In France and Spain, the numbers have increased.

“The reasons for the stronger effect of tobacco smoke on women’s arteries are still unknown, but some hints may come from the complex interplay between smoke, inflammation and atherosclerosis,” says Prof Tremoli.

“It is important to mention, however, that, when women smoke they lose their protection against the harmful effect of inflammation.

“In particular, if we stratify the female population according to smoking habits, we see that in the group of women who smoke, especially in heavy smokers, the relationship between CRP and arterial wall thickening becomes similar to that observed in men.

“We all know that women are ‘naturally’ protected against cardiovascular disease, particularly before menopause, and this has led to less attention of health professionals and researchers in regard to this disease in women.

“Women themselves tend to think that they are less susceptible to the damages of cardiovascular risk factors, such as high blood pressure and cholesterol, a diet rich in saturated fats and, finally, tobacco smoke. Our results indicate that, at least for the latter, this is not true,” concludes Prof Tremoli.

Carotid Intima Media thickness and IMT-PROgression as predictors of Vascular Events: the IMPROVE study

Tags: Drug and Alcohol Abuse | Europe | Heart Health | Women’s Health & Gynaecology

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