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Does diabetes increase the risk of heart disease in younger women?

By Apollo 24/7, Published on - 28 January 2021

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Diabetes is a systemic disease characterized by increased blood sugar levels in the body. Several studies have concluded that uncontrolled diabetes can affect several vital organs of the body, including the heart, liver and brain.
Recent research has revealed that women suffering from any type of diabetes (type 1, type 2 or gestational) are at increased risk of developing coronary heart disease at a younger age. This can be a significant health risk for women, as the World Health Organization states that cardiovascular diseases are responsible for over 52% of all deaths in women across the globe.

Studying the risk factors for heart disease in young women

The study published in the journal JAMA Cardiology on 20th January 2021 included over 28,000 women aged 45 years and above, with no history of any cardiovascular disease. Based on their age, the scientists divided the participants into four categories:
  • Below the age of 55 years,
  • Between the age of 55 to 64 years,
  • Between the age of 65 to 74 years, and
  • Ageing 75 years or above.
The scientists from the Harvard Medical School analysed the onset of coronary heart disease (CHD) and the adjusted hazard ratios of these participants from 1st October 2017 till 1st October 2020. Adjusted hazard ratios (aHR) helps in determining the risk - higher the ratio, higher the risk of contracting the disease.
The scientists also examined 50 biomarkers associated with cardiovascular health such as low-density lipoprotein (LDL/ bad cholesterol), very-low-density lipoproteins (VLDL), HbA1c (average blood sugar levels of 3 months), triglycerides (a type of fat in the blood) and lipoprotein insulin resistance (LPIR) (a new system to measure insulin resistance).

Younger women with diabetes have a 10-fold risk of heart diseases

The results of the study showed that:
  • Women with diabetes (irrespective of their age) had the highest aHR for CHD.
  • Women below the age of 55 years had 10.71 aHR for CHD, whereas those at 75 years or above had 3.47 aHR for CHD.
  • The reason behind this could be that these women showed the maximum number of risk factors associated with CHD, which include metabolic syndrome (high blood sugar and cholesterol), high blood pressure, obesity, and smoking.
  • Women below the age of 55 years also showed high LPIR levels, which increases the aHR for CHD to 6.40, making them more prone to developing CHD.
  • High levels of LDL in women under 55 years increased the risk of heart disease by 40%, while obesity, smoking and high blood pressure increased the risk of coronary disease by 4 times.
With this study, scientists concluded that women under the age of 55 years, diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, have a tenfold higher risk of developing heart disease within the next two decades of their life.

Earlier investigation with a similar conclusion

Earlier research published in the European Society of Cardiology in the year 2015 included 7386 women, who were examined for five risk factors of myocardial infarction (MI) (commonly known as a heart attack), which include diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking and obesity. The study also focused on assessing the difference in the risk quotient on dividing the participants into three groups:
  • 1941 women under the age of 45 years, diagnosed with MI
  • 1170 women under the age of 45 years with no MI
  • 4275 women in the age group of 63 to 64 years, diagnosed with MI 
The results of the study showed that four risk factors determined MI in women under the age of 45 years. These include:
  • Diabetes increased the risk of MI by six-fold
  • Arterial high blood pressure (arterial hypertension) increased the risk of MI by four times
  • High cholesterol levels in the blood (hypercholesterolemia) tripled risk of MI
  • Smoking increased the risk of MI by 1.6 times.
The study concluded that diabetes is the strongest predictor of MI in young women, thus preventive measures must be taken to reduce the mortality associated with the disease.

Conclusion

Women are at risk of suffering from heart disease after the age of 50 years, after menopause. Various studies have concluded that diabetes can put younger women at higher risk of developing cardiovascular diseases. Consuming a nutritious diet, exercising regularly to maintain a healthy weight, quitting unhealthy habits such as smoking and consuming alcohol, and monitoring blood sugar levels frequently can help in managing diabetes effectively while keeping the heart in great shape.
Talk to a cardiologist if you have any questions related to heart health. And for any queries on diabetes, you can talk to a diabetologist or an endocrinologist.

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