Rebecca J. Stahl, MA
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a leading cause of death of American women. Are you at risk? The American Heart Association (AHA) offers a way to classify the likelihood of developing CVD—one that goes beyond the Framingham global risk score. The Framingham score places women in categories (from high risk to optimal) based on factors like age, total cholesterol, and blood pressure. The total score has been to calculate a woman’s 10-year risk of developing the disease. The problem with this is that a low score does not necessarily reflect risk over the course of a lifetime.
With that in mind, the AHA recommends doctors take a more comprehensive view of cardiovascular risk. Adding to the Framingham score, doctors should examine the patient’s medical and lifestyle history, family history of CVD, as well as other genetic conditions. The AHA aims to tackle heart disease in women by evaluating lifetime risk and determining the most appropriate preventive measures. The goals also include more aggressive tactics for those at high risk.
AHA's classification focuses on three categories: high risk, at risk, and ideal heart health. Women in the “high risk” category have one or more of the following:
Those “at risk” have one or more risk factors for CVD:
Women in the ideal heart health category have ideal cholesterol, blood pressure, body mass index, and fasting blood glucose values. A healthy diet, physical activity, and not smoking are also characteristic of those in this category.
The AHA recommends these lifestyle changes to prevent CVD for all women:
If you have high cholesterol, talk to your doctor about taking omega-3 fatty acids. Your doctor should also screen you for depression.
In addition, if you have recently suffered a cardiovascular event (eg, angina, heart attack, stroke, peripheral artery disease) or have had heart surgery, undergo a comprehensive rehabilitative program to manage your condition and lower your risk of recurrence or other future complications.
There are many interventions available if you are at risk for CVD. The AHA recommends:
American Heart Association
Go Red for Women
Canadian Cardiovascular Society
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
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http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/guidelines/cholesterol/risk_tbl.htm#women. Accessed February 22, 2007.
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Mosca L, Benjamin EJ, Berra K, et al. Effectiveness-based guidelines for the prevention of cardiovascular disease in women—2011 update:
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http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/Hbp/HBP_WhatIs.html. Accessed February 22, 2007.
Last reviewed May 2011 by Brian Randall, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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