Genetics can increase the risk of heart disease in women

The researchers from University College London studied a group of genes that have previously been linked to an increased risk of disease in the arteries. They studied data from nearly 4,000 men and women from across Europe, comparing their genes, their artery thickness and their artery health.

The scientists, led by BHF Professor Steve Humphries, believe they have pinpointed the gene in the group that is associated with an increased risk of a heart attack or stroke in women, but not in men.

Called BCAR1, the gene they identified is involved in many processes in the body that are affected by the female sex hormone oestrogen. The researchers believe that a high risk version of the BCAR1 gene – the GG version – when combined with a woman’s naturally occurring high oestrogen levels, could lead to the increased risk of cardiovascular disease compared with the low risk version – the AA version. Men with the GG version of the BCAR1 gene do not seem to be affected.

Over the five-year study, women with the high risk BCAR1 gene – around a third of those studied – had an increased risk (6.1%) of having a heart attack, stroke or diseased blood vessels compared with those with the low risk version of the gene (2.5%).

Heart disease is the major cause of heart attack and someone has a heart attack in the UK every three minutes. Understanding what puts people at risk of heart attacks is an important part of finding ways to prevent them and potentially treat people with medication to lower their risk of having a heart attack. British Heart Foundation