High cholesterol is riskier for middle-aged men compared to women when it comes to having a first heart attack, a new study has found.
The study of more than 40,000 Norwegian men and women, shows that being a middle-aged male and having high cholesterol levels results in a negative synergistic effect that the researchers did not observe in women.
However, current clinical guidelines for treating high cholesterol levels do not differentiate between men and women.
Erik Madssen from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology's (NTNU) Department of Circulation and Medical Imaging, who was first author of the paper with Lars Erik Laugsand, also from NTNU, said that their results suggest that in middle age, high cholesterol levels are much more detrimental for men than women, so that prevention efforts in this age group will have a greater potential to reduce the occurrence of a first heart attack in men.
The researchers used data from the second Nord-Trondelag Health Study, a county-wide survey carried out in 1995-1997 in Nord Trondelag, Norway, that included blood sample collection from 65,000 people.
Because the researchers hypothezised that female sex hormones could possibly protect women with respect to the prevalence of first heart attacks, they restricted their analysis to participants who were younger than 60 years old at the time of the survey.
In the end, the researchers had information from 23,525 women and 20,725 men who fit this category. During the nearly 12 years of follow-up on the participants who were younger than 60 years when the survey was conducted, there were 157 new cases of heart attacks in women and 553 in men.
They also conducted a secondary analysis of participants who were 60 years old or older at the time of the survey, which gave them another 20,138 individuals for the analysis. However, there was no evidence of a negative synergistic effect in male participants in this age group.
The study has been published in the September issue of Epidemiology.