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Prediabetes and type 2 diabetes in women linked with higher cardiovascular disease risk than in men 

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New research we funded has revealed that in women living with prediabetes and type 2 diabetes, raised blood sugar levels increase their risk of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD) more than for men.

The study, led by researchers at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and University College London (UCL), tells us more about how blood sugar levels in different ranges affects risk of CVD for men and women. 

CVD, also known as heart disease, increases the likelihood of heart attacks and strokes. People living with diabetes are more at risk of heart disease than those who do not live with diabetes. This is because high blood sugar levels over a long period of time can damage your blood vessels and affect your circulation. 

We know that the risks of developing CVD isn’t the same for everyone with diabetes, and that women’s risk tends to be higher than men.  

To find out more about differences in CVD risk between men and women with different blood sugar level ranges, our researchers analysed data from 427,435 people (54.2% women, 45.8% men), including people living with type 2 diabetes, prediabetes, and those who do not live with diabetes. People living with type 1 diabetes were excluded from the analysis. 

Reducing CVD risks 

The findings show that women and men with type 2 diabetes have a greater risk of CVD compared to those with prediabetes and those without diabetes.  

People with prediabetes – meaning their blood sugar levels are just below the diabetes range (between 42-47 mmol/mol) and they have a high risk of developing type 2 diabetes – were also found to have a higher CVD risk than people with blood sugar levels in the non-diabetes range. 

The study further tells us that the extra risk from raised blood sugar levels is greater for women with prediabetes and type 2 diabetes than it is for men. Researchers discovered that women with prediabetes had a 30-50% greater risk of developing CVD compared to women without diabetes. This figure was 30% for men with prediabetes.  

Significantly, the researchers identified that these differences might be explained by women with prediabetes and type 2 diabetes being more likely to live with obesity and less likely to be prescribed statins and blood pressure-lowering drugs (medications that can protect against CVD) than men. 

This indicates that interventions to target these factors, such as increasing statin use in women, could help to close the gap in CVD risk between men and women with prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. 

"An important reminder” 

Every week, diabetes leads to more than 770 strokes, 590 heart attacks and 2,300 cases of heart failure, and we know women are at particular risk of poor outcomes.  

Dr Lucy Chambers, Head of Research Communications at Diabetes UK, said:

“This important new research, co-funded by Diabetes UK and the British Heart Foundation, highlights strategies that could tackle sex-based inequalities in cardiovascular disease outcomes, including greater use of antihypertensive and statin medications in women. 
“The research is also an important reminder that having higher than normal blood sugar levels over long periods damages blood vessels, increasing risk of cardiovascular diseases, and that this effect can be seen not only in people with diabetes but also prediabetes.
“If you are living with diabetes it’s essential that you attend your annual diabetes tests and checks, and get support from your healthcare team to lower blood sugar levels and manage risk of diabetes complications, including discussing available medication options.”  

If you have a diagnosis of prediabetes your healthcare team can support you to make changes to lower your blood sugar levels and prevent or delay type 2 diabetes. Find out your risk of having type 2 diabetes by completing our Know Your Risk tool. 

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