Preventing Cardiovascular Disease In Women
Chester J. Zelasko, Ph.D. | February 24, 2004

Today in the United States, more women than men will die from cardiovascular disease. It has taken a long time for both the public and the medical community to recognize that fact--that's why a recent American Heart Association publication is so important for both women and their physicians.

In developing the recently published AHA guidelines for preventing cardiovascular disease (CVD) in women (1), more than 6,800 scientific articles were considered for review, and almost 1,300 studies made the final cut. A team of the best physicians and public-health experts in the country examined the scientific data to derive the Guidelines. Designed for physicians to help their female patients prevent CVD, the Guidelines recommend stratifying female patients into risk groups based on the Framingham Global Point Score and the woman's current state of disease. The course of action will depend on which risk group a woman belongs in.

But you don't have to see your doctor to find out how you measure up--simply use this link, www.nhlbi.nih.gov/guidelines/cholesterol/index.htm, go to the 10-Year Risk Calculator for Patients, and enter your age, total cholesterol, systolic blood pressure, HDL-cholesterol, smoking status, and whether you're taking medications for hypertension (the Calculator works for men, too). Your answers will determine your Framingham Global Point Score, which indicates the percent risk that you'll have a cardiovascular event such as a heart attack or stroke in the next 10 years. The risk categories based on the score are:

  • High risk: over 20%
  • Intermediate risk: 10% to 20%
  • Lower and optimal risk: less than 10%
Once you've got your Global Score and know your 10-year risk, discuss your next course of action with your physician. Most actions in each risk category require lifestyle changes such as losing weight, exercising, quitting smoking, and eating a better diet. However, some actions will require the use of medications and food supplements.

Many of our readers don't want to take pharmaceuticals if they can avoid them. Just remember this: the day that you decide to change your lifestyle for the better to lower your risk of CVD, you still have the baggage of your previous life to deal with: your weight, your diet, your smoking habits, and more. The long-term effects of those habits don't just go away because you decide today you're going to live a healthier life. It may be better to take a medication temporarily to reduce blood pressure or cholesterol while you work on improving your lifestyle. Design a lifestyle plan with your physician that incorporates an exit strategy so you can be pharmaceutical free in 1-2 years.

Like an accompanying editorial in the journal suggests, "You've come a long way, baby. (2)" Now that women know what to do--just like men--it's up to them to do it. Ladies, your health is in your hands. Run with it.

References:

  1. Evidence-Based Guidelines for Cardiovascular Disease Prevention in Women. Circulation. 2004;109:672-693.
  2. Wenger, NK. You've Come a Long Way, Baby* Cardiovascular Health and Disease in Women: Problems and Prospects. Circulation. 2004;109:558-560.
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