Background: Coronary heart disease (CHD) is markedly more common in men than in women. In both sexes, CHD risk increases with age, but the increase is sharper in women. We analyzed the extent to which major cardiovascular risk factors can explain the sex difference and the age-related increase in CHD risk.
Methods and results: The study cohort consists of 14 786 Finnish men and women 25 to 64 years old at baseline. The following cardiovascular risk factors were determined: smoking, serum total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, blood pressure, body mass index, and diabetes. Risk factor measurements were done in 1982 or 1987, and the cohorts were followed up until the end of 1994. The Cox proportional hazards model was used to assess the relation between risk factors and CHD risk. CHD incidence in men compared with women was approximately 3 times higher and mortality was approximately 5 times higher. Most of the risk factors were more favorable in women, but the sex difference in risk factor levels diminished with increasing age. Differences in risk factors between sexes, particularly in HDL cholesterol and smoking, explained nearly half of the difference in CHD risk between men and women. Differences in serum total cholesterol level, blood pressure, body mass index, and diabetes prevalence explained about one-third of the age-related increase in CHD risk among men and 50% to 60% among women.
Conclusions: Differences in major cardiovascular risk factors explained a substantial part of the sex difference in CHD risk. An increase in risk factor levels was associated with the age-related increase in CHD incidence and mortality in both sexes but to a larger extent in women.