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Women and Heart Disease

On Wednesday, February 4, 2004, American Heart Association (AHA) officials announced new guidelines aimed at preventing heart disease in women. The guidelines are "generally consistent" with prevention methods advised for both sexes, but they "place greater emphasis" on health issues that more commonly affect women, such as depression (Stein, Washington Post, 2/5). Specifically, AHA recommends the following:

  • All women should receive an evaluation of heart health based on the Framingham Risk Score, which takes into account age, total cholesterol, HDL (good) cholesterol, smoking status and systolic blood pressure.
  • Women with higher risk levels should pursue more aggressive prevention strategies than women with intermediate or low risk levels.
  • High-risk women should receive statins, ACE inhibitors or beta-blockers.
  • Women with blood pressure levels of 140/85 or higher should receive drugs to lower that level.
  • High-risk women with low HDL levels should receive niacin-based drugs but not niacin-based supplements.
  • Aspirin use is effective for high-risk women, but the risks of bleeding, stroke or stomach problems outweigh the benefit in lower-risk women.
  • All women should stop smoking, exercise regularly and eat healthier foods (Winslow, Wall Street Journal, 2/5).
  • Women should not receive post-menopausal hormone replacement therapy because it does not appear to reduce the risk of heart disease (Washington Post, 2/5).

Heart disease has led to the deaths of more women than men over the past 20 years. While heart-related deaths among men declined 12% over that time, the rate among women has remained flat (Wall Street Journal,2/5).

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