Glasgow University researchers who last week revealed dramatic results in the treatment of heart disease are now turning their attention to a hitherto neglected group - women.
The West of Scotland Coronary Prevention Study (Woscops) has carried out a seven-year study of 6,500 men, showing that heart attacks can be reduced by a third through treatment with the drug prevastatin. Allan Gaw, British Heart Foundation research fellow in Glasgow's department of pathological biochemistry, is now setting up a multidisciplinary centre to study coronary heart disease in women.
Dr Gaw said that in the 45 to 64-year-old age group covered by the Woscops study, men had four times the heart disease rates of women, and from a practical point of view, a single-sex study was more sensible.
But he warned that it was a mistaken belief, among the public and the medical profession, that heart disease was a man's problem.
"Nothing could be further from the truth. It is the biggest single killer of women, bigger than all cancers. One in four women in Britain dies of heart disease," he said. "Glasgow is a very interesting case in point. In the poorest areas, heart disease rates among women are actually higher than the rates among men in better areas."
In the over-65 age group, heart disease rates were almost equal, but women consistently ascribed angina symptoms to other causes. "They'll say 'my husband's got heart disease, but I've just got indigestion'."
Before the menopause, women are relatively protected against heart disease by high oestrogen levels, Dr Gaw said, but a lot of research remained to be done, particularly into why some premenopausal women have heart disease.
"There's a great realisation now that this has been a very much neglected part of medicine," Dr Gaw said. There was no reason why the Woscops findings were not equally applicable to women, since the three major correctable risk factors of smoking, high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol were the same for both sexes.