PARIS, France — Lesbian and bisexual women have a higher likelihood of developing heart disease compared to their heterosexual counterparts, according to a new study. However, gay and bisexual men displayed better cardiovascular health scores compared to heterosexual men.
The new report involved over 169,000 adults in France and is the first of its kind to assess heart health in sexual minorities. Lesbian and bisexual women displayed suboptimal cardiovascular health scores compared to heterosexual women. Researchers argue that this finding necessitates the need to prioritize lesbian and bisexual women in preventative measures against heart disease.
The American Heart Association updated its cardiovascular health metrics, Life’s Essential 8, last year, augmenting the original seven metrics of Life’s Simple 7 with a healthy sleep factor. These metrics encompass a healthy diet, regular physical activity, no smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, and normal blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure levels.
“We aimed to investigate any disparities in the Life’s Essential 8 cardiovascular health scores among sexual minority individuals, including gay, lesbian, and bisexual adults, compared to heterosexual individuals,” says Omar Deraz, the study’s lead author from the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research, in a media release. “Boosting cultural competency and awareness of cardiovascular disease risk within the sexual minority adult population could enhance dialogue between doctors and patients about cardiovascular health, including its prevention and management.”
Scroll down to see the top 10 heart symptoms a cardiologist says you should never ignore
Prior research indicates that LGBTQ adults are less inclined to seek health care and more prone to delay it compared to heterosexual adults. The current study assessed health data from more than 169,400 adults with an average age of 46, all of whom were free from heart disease.
Approximately 93 percent of the nearly 91,000 female participants identified as heterosexual; roughly 3.5 percent identified as bisexual, and 0.61 percent identified as lesbian. Among the over 78,550 male participants, 90 percent identified as heterosexual, 3.5 percent identified as bisexual, and three percent identified as gay.
After adjusting for variables such as family heart disease history, the study found that lesbian and bisexual women had significantly lower cardiovascular health scores than heterosexual women when measured using Life’s Essential 8 metrics. Nevertheless, lesbian women who had been pregnant at some point demonstrated superior cardiovascular health compared to heterosexual women.
Gay and bisexual men had higher cardiovascular health scores compared to heterosexual men. However, those living in rural areas had lower scores than their urban counterparts. According to Life’s Essential 8, lesbian women had worse scores for a healthy diet and healthy blood pressure levels than heterosexual women. Bisexual women, on the other hand, had better scores for a healthy diet and increased nicotine exposure.
The study also found that gay and bisexual adults tended to consume excess alcohol more frequently compared to their heterosexual peers. They also reported mental health issues, such as anxiety disorders, symptoms of depression, usage of prescription medications for depression, or a history of suicide attempts, more often than heterosexual adults. Conversely, lesbian women reported fewer instances of anxiety disorders and depression symptoms compared to heterosexual women.
“These findings could be partially explained by life circumstances, such as poverty, challenging work conditions, mental health struggles, discrimination, or negative past experiences with the health care system,” adds Deraz.
“Although this data might not be entirely applicable to other countries, it’s critical research into a demographic that’s significantly underrepresented in clinical and epidemiological studies. In order to address the discrimination and disparities affecting health, we must strive to understand the unique experiences of all individuals and populations, including sexual minorities,” says Dr. Connie Tsao, a representative of the American Heart Association. “We’re optimistic that studies like this will help fill the knowledge gap regarding cardiovascular health among sexual minority populations, contributing to the American Heart Association’s mission to improve cardiovascular health equity for all.”
This study is published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
Top 10 heart symptoms you should never ignore
Dr. Ameet Bakhai, a consultant cardiologist at Spire Bushey Hospital, says there are several signs that could indicate your heart is in less than tip-top condition.
Dr. Bakhai, who has a special interest in research into how lifestyle factors can impact cardiac health and how we can prevent this, also reveals that an adult with a healthy heart should be able to run up two flights of stairs and squat on a toilet without running out of breath, providing they have no other health conditions. Similarly, a healthy adult should be able to hold their breath comfortably for 20 seconds.
Here are the doctor’s 10 warnings signs to keep an eye on:
- Dizziness on standing up quickly
- Shortness of breath
- Difficulty bending down
- Tightness of the chest
- Arm pain – neck or upper arms often the left
- Difficulty standing up
- Chest discomfort (excluding tightness)
- Swollen legs
- Frequent extra or skipped heartbeats
“We often ignore our heart health and its signals until it’s too late,” says Dr. Ameet, who has been advising Healthspan’s Love Your Heart supplement range, which commissioned the research, in a statement.
“There’s no annual MOT to be passed for most of us, so we ignore the small signals that our own engine is not performing ideally. Heart issues can often get progressively worse, until one day you have a more complicated issue – that could have been avoided if you’d heeded the warning signs.”
South West News Service writer Stephen Beech contributed to this report.