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Heart health improves for women with Type 2 diabetes, but researchers warn there is more to do

Our scientists have new evidence to suggest that Type 2 diabetes leads to a smaller increase in the risk of cardiovascular disease for women today than it has done in the past.

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Funded by Diabetes UK, researchers at the University of Manchester studied data from almost 80,000 people who were newly diagnosed Type 2 diabetes. They looked for differences between men and women in relation to their risk of having a heart problem such as a heart attack or stroke.

Type 2 diabetes increases the risk of cardiovascular disease for both men and women. While men with Type 2 diabetes have a higher overall risk of cardiovascular disease, previous research has shown that when women develop Type 2 diabetes, their risk of cardiovascular disease increases more than it does for men. 

But this new study, published today in Circulation, suggests that Type 2 diabetes leads to a smaller increase in the risk of cardiovascular disease for women today than it has done in the past. In fact, the risk of cardiovascular disease increases by a similar amount for both men and women when they’re diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. 

The researchers used newer data than previous studies, involving information from people diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes between 2006 and 2013. The researchers believe the results could reflect better care in more recent years, such as a bigger focus on preventing cardiovascular disease and initiatives to improve care in GP practices. 

A work in progress for women’s care

Despite these improvements, the researchers warn that women might not be receiving the same level of care as men. For example, they are less likely to be prescribed important medications to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, to protect against cardiovascular disease in the future. This is despite the fact that the women were more likely than men to have high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and see their healthcare team more often. The researchers found this was even more likely in women already showing some signs of cardiovascular disease. 

The research team believes that this prescription gap could be due to differences in the symptoms of cardiovascular disease between men and women. Alternatively, they suggest it may be due to differences in the way healthcare professionals and people living with Type 2 diabetes view health and cardiovascular disease risk in men and women. But they stress that more research is needed to understand the reasons for these prescribing differences.

Dr Elizabeth Robertson, Director of Research at Diabetes UK, said: 

“These new results suggest that the outlook for women with Type 2 diabetes is better than previously thought, thanks to improved care. However, we need to make sure that everyone with Type 2 diabetes gets the best treatments and care, to reduce their risk of life-threatening cardiovascular complications like heart attack or stroke as much as possible.” 

Dr Alison Wright, lead researcher of the study at the University of Manchester, said: 

“The improved outlook for women as they develop Type 2 diabetes is good news, and likely to be a reflection of the improvements in Type 2 diabetes UK care. But we can’t be complacent; as healthcare professionals, we need to ensure that women receive better care, on a par with men, to address any potential prescription bias.”

Dr Martin Rutter, senior researcher at the University of Manchester, said:

“Further research is now needed to understand the reasons for these prescribing differences between men and women and to find ways to close the gap. Research in primary care is particularly needed, as this is where most people with Type 2 diabetes are treated.”  

Find out more about how to manage diabetes and reduce your risk of heart complications.
 

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