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Smoking more harmful to women’s arteries than men’s, study finds

August 30, 2011

By Patricia Nicholson

New research not only confirms the harmful effects of smoking on arteries, but also found that these effects may be significantly more damaging in women compared to men.

Researchers looked at the IMT measurements (intima media thickness – a measurement of the thickness of the walls of the artery) of men’s and women’s carotids (the artery that brings blood to the brain). Increases in IMT are an indicator of arterial damage and atherosclerosis – a narrowing of the arteries that represents a major cardiovascular risk.

While smoking was associated with significant arterial damage in both men and women, it was more than twice as harmful to women’s arteries than to men’s. Smoking also appeared to damage women’s arteries faster than men’s, with more severe disease progression for the number of cigarettes they smoked per day.

For the IMPROVE study (Carotid Intima Media Thickness and IMT-PROgression as predictors of Vascular Events), an international team of researchers studied data on 1,694 men and 1,893 women from five European countries. All of the study subjects were between 54 and 79 years old, and were at high risk of cardiovascular disease.

The researchers measured the study subjects’ carotid IMT at the beginning of the study, and over the course of the study. They then calculated the increase in carotid IMT for each pack-year (a measure of smoking history based on how much and how long a person has smoked). In men, IMT increased by 1.5 micrometres per pack year. In women, the increase was more than doubled: 3.7 micrometres per pack year.

The researchers also looked at how quickly arterial damage progressed in relation to the number of cigarettes smoked per day. They found that the rate of progression based on amount smoked was more than five times as high in women compared to men.

These results suggest that not only is smoking strongly linked to arterial damage, but that it may be more harmful to women’s arteries than men’s.

The research was presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress in Paris on Aug. 29.

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  • A publication of:
  • Women's College Hospital