Harvard Heart Letter

Throughout life, heart attacks are twice as common in men than women

Research we're watching

Experts still aren't sure why heart attacks are more common in men than in women. But differences in risk factors (such as high cholesterol) do not explain the contrast, new research suggests.

The study included nearly 34,000 people (about half of whom were women) in Norway who had a heart attack between 1979 and 2012. Researchers found that throughout life, men were about twice as likely as women to have a heart attack. That higher risk persisted even after they accounted for traditional risk factors for heart disease, including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, body mass index, and physical activity.

Earlier studies suggested that women's naturally occurring hormone levels might protect against heart disease before menopause, when hormone levels drop. However, the risk of heart attack changed only slightly as women transitioned through menopause, making it unlikely that female hormone levels explain these findings, say the authors. Their report was published online Sept. 12, 2016, by JAMA Internal Medicine.