Genetics can increase the risk of heart disease in women

21 October 2015        

Man holding lab slide

An international study we funded has found a gene that is linked to an increased 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. Their findings were published today in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Genetics.

What did they find out?

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%).

Why does this matter?

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.

The discovery coincides with the launch of our new Research Strategy where we aim to raise over half a billion pounds towards life saving heart and circulatory research over the next five years. 

You can help by donating to research to better understand the causes of heart disease so researchers can develop new treatments and ways to prevent the disease from developing.Dr Shannon Amoils, our Senior Research Adviser said:

“Heart disease is often seen as a disease which predominantly affects men, but this is simply not the case. We know that women have a lower overall risk of coronary heart disease compared with men but as this study shows, women do get coronary heart disease, and it is important to find out more about the factors that increase their risk. We will only be able to do this through further research.
“It’s imperative that heart disease is seen as a disease which can affect anyone regardless of their gender and that everyone takes steps to help prevent it. Women can reduce their risk by not smoking, getting regular physical exercise and eating healthily.”

Find out more about our new Research Strategy and how it is helping with our fight against cardiovascular disease.