WEDNESDAY, Aug. 31 (HealthDay News) -- Smoking causes more arterial damage in women than in men, a new study finds.

Researchers used ultrasound to assess the carotid arteries (neck arteries that carry blood to the brain) in 1,893 women and 1,694 men in Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands, France and Italy.

The study found that a lifetime of smoking was associated with thickening of the arterial walls (atherosclerosis) in both genders, but the impact in women was more than double that seen in men.

The findings were presented Monday at the European Society of Cardiology meeting in Paris.

The investigators also found that the effect that the number of cigarettes smoked per day had on progression of atherosclerosis was more than fivefold greater in women than in men.

These associations between smoking and atherosclerosis were independent of other risk factors, such as cholesterol level, obesity, age, blood pressure and social class, the researchers said.

"The reasons for the stronger effect of tobacco smoke on women's arteries are still unknown, but some hints may come from the complex interplay between smoke, inflammation and atherosclerosis," lead study author Elena Tremoli, a professor of pharmacology at the University of Milan in Italy, said in a European Society of Cardiology news release.

Because this study was presented at a medical meeting, the data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about atherosclerosis.