Cardiovascular Health Prevention in Women
Being aware of personal risk and treatment options can empower a woman to live a long and healthy life. Guidelines have been developed to help women prevent the development of heart and vascular disease. Physicians who follow these guidelines will be able to help women make lifestyle changes and better select the right medications to help them avoid or treat heart and vascular disease.
The guidelines for cardiovascular disease prevention in women were designed to help women achieve a heart-healthy lifestyle and reduce their chances of having a heart attack or stroke.
Say "ALOHA" (Goodbye) to Heart & Vascular Disease
It is easy to remember what you need to know about the guidelines and setting priorities. Just think ALOHA:
A - Assess your risk and rank yourself as high, intermediate, or lower risk.
L - Lifestyle changes are the top priority in heart and vascular disease prevention.
O - Other interventions are prioritized according to the expert panel rating scale.
H - Highest priority for therapy is for women at highest risk.
A - Avoid medical therapies called Class III.
A - Assess Your Risk
Your risk for developing heart disease over time depends on the presence or absence of specific risk factors or lifestyle behaviors that may increase your risk of developing heart disease. When we talk about risk, we are describing the "odds" of you developing heart disease at some point in your life. The first step in lowering your risk requires assessing—or measuring—your risk. You and your doctor can use a tool called the Framingham Risk Score to calculate your risk of developing heart disease.
10 Year Heart Disease Risk Score
Your risk score tells you your chances of having a heart attack or dying of heart disease over a 10-year period. You are given points, based on your age, total cholesterol level, HDL ("good") cholesterol level, blood pressure, and whether you smoke. The points are added up and converted into a 10-year risk score—the higher your score, the higher your risk of developing heart disease. Your risk can be interpreted as the number of chances out of 100 that you will develop or die from heart disease in the next 10 years, according to your current risk profile.
If you already have heart disease, stroke, peripheral arterial disease, abdominal aortic aneurysm, diabetes mellitus, or chronic kidney disease, you are automatically considered to be at high risk. Also, some women with genetic cholesterol problems may also be at high risk.
Calculate your risk of developing heart disease. Share the results with your physician and discuss the next steps to reduce your risk of heart disease.
L - Lifestyle Change: First Line of Defense Against Cardiovascular Disease
No matter what your risk score is, the most important thing you can do to lower your risk of heart and vascular disease is to make living a healthy lifestyle your top priority. The following five lifestyle changes are recommended to all women.
O - Other Interventions Prioritized by the Evidence Rating Scale
The clinical recommendations below are part of the guidelines. They are recommended based on evidence that these interventions will reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease in women. These interventions include lowering high blood pressure in all women with hypertension (high blood pressure), ensuring healthy cholesterol levels, and keeping diabetes under control.
H - Highest Priority for Therapy Is for Women at Highest Risk
Women who are considered to be at highest risk are most likely to benefit from preventive therapy. Women at highest risk are those who already have cardiovascular disease, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease. Besides lifestyle changes and controlling major risk factors, several drugs have been shown to prevent heart and vascular disease or increase survival in this group. The drugs listed below are considered desirable therapies for women at high risk.
A - Avoid Medical Interventions Called "Class III"
The guidelines also outline drugs that should not be used in women to prevent cardiovascular disease because research has shown no benefit—and in some cases, found harm. You should avoid the use of the following:
Overwhelming evidence suggests that cardiovascular disease can be prevented in both women and men. Every woman should know what her risk level is and talk to her doctor about prevention goals and the best way to reach them.
Center for Women's Cardiovascular Health