Smoking, diabetes increase heart attack risk more in women

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

An Oxford University study of data from 470,000 people shows that women with high blood pressure or type 2 diabetes - both of which are linked to obesity, drinking and diet - see their heart attack risk rise more than men with the same conditions.

The researchers explained that women may be more susceptible to heart attack because of the way the female body stores fat. Fifty-six percent of them were women.

For women with severe hypertension - high blood pressure - the risk rises by 152 per cent compared with 71 per cent for men.

The researchers say they do not know why these factors are sex-specific, and no firm conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect, but they do have some theories.

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

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Dr Elizabeth Millett, who led the study, said: "Cardiovascular disease is the biggest killer of women but so many don't realise".

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 United Kingdom residents.

"Women need to be aware they're at risk, but despite lots of campaigns, it's still under the radar of most women".

The researchers said unless women begin to improve their lifestyles, their rate of heart attacks would begin to move towards that of men.

And the authors said women with diabetes, high blood pressure and who smoke, "should be considered at a level of risk comparable to many men".

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