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Diabetes May Be Bigger Threat to the Female Heart: Study

Women with diabetes face 40 to 50 percent greater risk of heart disease than men with diabetes, researchers say
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Nearly 30,000 people in the studies had some form of heart disease, the study authors noted.

When the researchers looked at the risk by gender, they discovered that diabetic women were nearly three times more likely to develop heart disease than women without diabetes. For men with diabetes, the risk of heart disease was slightly more than twice as likely compared to men without diabetes.

Although the study found an association between women with diabetes and heart disease, it doesn't prove a cause-and-effect relationship between diabetes, gender and heart disease.

The study findings do strongly suggest that doctors need to consider gender when treating chronic disease, said Dr. Tara Narula, associate director of the Cardiac Care Unit at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

"The days of lumping men and women together are coming to an end," Narula said. "We need to see women as unique entities regarding their risk factors and, if we recognize there's this gender differential, we need to be more aggressive in screening and treating women for diabetes or heart disease."

Women likely need to receive more aggressive treatment while in pre-diabetes, rather than waiting for full-blown diabetes to develop, both Narula and Bauman said. In pre-diabetes, people have started to build up resistance to insulin but do not have the high blood sugar levels needed for a diagnosis of diabetes.

It may be that spending a longer period of time in pre-diabetes takes a toll on the blood vessels of the heart, causing them to harden and narrow, they said.

"If that turns out to be true, then we might need to look more in the pre-diabetic phase, to maybe be more aggressive than we already are," Bauman said. "We can keep these things from happening. Heart disease is largely preventable."

The study authors recommend increased screening for pre-diabetes in women, as well as more stringent follow-up of women at high risk of diabetes.

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