White women under age 65 are half as likely as white men the same age to get heart disease, even if they smoke or are overweight, a federal health study found.
But the rate of coronary heart disease among women accelerates after age 65 and is almost the same as men after age 75, the Centers for Disease Control said Thursday.
Women, like men, have a higher risk for heart disease if they have diabetes or hypertension, smoke or are overweight, the study said. But two factors affected women differently from men--age and high cholesterol levels.
The study found that twice as many men as women between ages 25 and 64 had heart disease, and the rate among men increased evenly as they grew older, while the rate among women jumped after age 65. After 75, the ratio was four women with heart disease for every five men with the illness.
"It could be the reason women catch up with men is that they lose estrogen as they get older," said CDC epidemiologist Kate Brett. "But there's still an increase that can't be explained by the estrogen. It's such a dramatic change, and it doesn't occur only at the time of menopause."
Men with a total cholesterol level of 240 or higher were more likely to have heart disease than women with similar counts, the study found.
Brett said that could be because women with high cholesterol levels have more of the so-called good cholesterol.